The Woman Who Thought She Loved Men
By Zofia Barisas
Reviewed by Rob Mohr
The heroine reflects, “While my mind dwelled on bitter-sweet memories of people and events long gone … the present continuously presented diversions to show the relativity of the importance of my life … I was constantly reminded of the vastness of the context into which each life is embedded.”
Zofia Barisas’ mastery of language, and awareness of the labyrinthine complexity of identity within relationships, uncover the complex reality of one woman’s life in an exceptional work of fiction. Her dynamic narrative of self-examination and love explores formative events through transcendent stories that probe a woman’s life with sensitive finesse.
Not since Anais Nin’s book The Four Chambered Heart, has a woman writing in Mexico touched the human core with Zofia’s strength of language and emotional courage. Like Anais, Zofia’s words are persistent alchemy. The base metal of life is laid bare and becomes intimate treasure. Within each story a sense of lucent daylight - its transparency and promise - works to convey a reflective openness rare in literature.
In her story, The Stairs Going Down, feeling trapped by the husband and young sons, the woman asks, “What made the moment pass? An unexpected pleasure … a small son climbing into my lap as if he owned it …the smell of his clean hair, the softness of it against my chin, his trust that he was safe, the snow on the ledge of the bay window, the feeling of shelter and warmth, the smell of lamb roasting … It was all both prison and haven.”
About the world often dominated by men she writes, “I had lost sight of power to live … what a horrible thing it was to see one’s own powerlessness while others move freely in a world much wider than mine.” Zofia deftly involves both tormentor and tormented in the struggle for resolution. Raw emotion spills out - the essential element - as it must in all gifted writing.
The book at heart is a sensuous tale about a woman’s coming of age. Like translucent blue tracks in the snow, Zofia’s stories mark a woman’s long journey of emotional and spiritual transitions leading to an understanding of what it means to be wholly woman, not owned, one wet to the skin by the cold mist of reflection and experience. The setting in each story awakens all the senses while inviting the reader’s presence. “(The father’s) body was lying on the table where they had eaten all their meals … (the mother) stood at the counter. There was flour spread on a board, two eggs sat in a cup, a mound of chopped onions nearby. She looked at her hands white with flour, at the cherry wood of the counter, the pleasing grain of it. She opened and closed her fingers and watched the movement with delight …” These judicious words convey volumes about their relationship.
Character development has equal strength. Of the father she writes, “I watched my father emerge from the woods where he had been to cut trees. He stood, planted solid on a pile of logs that were tied to a flat sleigh pulled by two horses going at a trot. There was the smell of horses’ sweat … of pine … The sun came and went between shreds of cloud.”
Zofia Barisas has given us a marvelous book - a treat for the senses - Argentine Merlot and rich Mexican chocolate served with a meal of fresh corn tamales filled with the essentials of life.