She has read too many books and they have addled her brain…

Az’s CBR-III Review #1: Antigua Vida Mía (Antigua and my Life Before) by Marcela Serrano

I’ve always loved a good love story. Not necessarily romantic love, love between a couple; but the kind of relationship that enriches people’s lives, that makes them better versions of themselves. This is one of those stories.

Josefa Ferrer is an internationally renowned Chilean singer/songwriter. She is this tightly wound knot of neuroses that run the gamut from crippling stage fright to serious body image and food issues. Violeta Dasinski is Josefa’s closest friend since they bonded as schoolgirls over both of them being outsiders due to their social station. She is Josefa’s polar opposite in that she takes life as it comes and generally has a more positive outlook.  Antigua Vida Mía is the story of their friendship told by Josefa after Violeta kills her husband. Violeta is eventually acquitted of the crime and proceeds to move to Antigua and start her life over.

The story is told in medias res, that is, it begins in the middle, on the night Violeta shoots and kills her husband Eduardo who is a revered novelist. Josefa goes to Violeta’s house to retrieve the latter’s journals and from there we go back to their childhood and move forward. Both have led tumultuous lives: Josefa was left a widow with two small children at a young age and subsequently participated in a singing contest which led to her meeting her husband Andres who was married at the time and left his wife for her. Violeta has been marked by her mother’s abandoning her after discovering that her father was cheating. The mother falls in love with a Guatemalan guerrilla and follows him to Antigua, where they both die. Violeta then marries her first husband, who is an artist and moves to Europe with him. Upon their divorce, she moves back to Chile with their daughter Jacinta where she eventually meets and marries Eduardo. Through the twists and turns of their lives, their friendship is the one constant.

As the story progresses we begin to see that everything is not what it seems. On the outside, Josefa has always seemed to be the more successful one, with her singing career, the perfect husband – Andres and two lovely children: Borja and Celeste. But all is not well in Paradise: Josefa fears that Andres is cheating on her and Celeste has an eating disorder.  Worse, she has lost her inspiration and cannot make music. It seems that this unraveling of her life can be traced to when Violeta left the country.

Violeta, meanwhile, has come into her own. She discovered Antigua when she traveled to Mexico on her own to get away from Eduardo who was an alcoholic and had become abusive. There, she met Bob, an American journalist who takes her to Guatemala to find out about her mother and with whom she had an affair. After returning to Chile, she discovered she was pregnant. Eduardo became even more abusive after that because he knew the baby wasn’t his as he had had a vasectomy years before. Violeta didn’t know about it because when they married, he had made it clear she wanted more children so Eduardo lied. Eventually, this led to his murder as his anger over her infidelity triggered a fight during which he threatened to rape Violeta’ daughter Jacinta.

After being acquitted, Violeta leaves Chile for good and settles down in Antigua with her daughter and with Bob. She has their child, a boy named Gabriel. She also takes up weaving and makes wonderful tapestries. When Josefa feels she can take no more of her life she goes to Antigua to visit Violeta. There, she has an awakening of sorts inspired not only by the city of Antigua, but also by Javier, a journalist friend of Violeta and Bob. This eventually leads to her emotional stability and gives her fresh inspiration to make music again.

I realize that the story reads much like a telenovela but there is so much more to it than that. Both Chilean and Guatemalan history and traditions play an important role. And it is as much about both Violeta and Josefa finding their own space – a room of their own, as it were – where they can fully develop as women and as artists as it is about their friendship. The best part of the story, though, is the love between the two women which sustains and comforts them and which makes it possible for them to weather the many storms they encounter throughout their lives. Anyone lucky enough to have this kind of relationship in his or her life should treasure it because it is a rare and wonderful thing.

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