I got about four-fifths of the way through the book I’d decided to read for Chile, Isabel Allende’s epic The House of the Spirits, before it occurred to me to take a look at Allende’s biography. Alas, Allende wasn’t born in Chile, but in Peru. Since my self-imposed rules for this project require that the author have been born in the country I’m reading, the book I’d chosen for Chile was suddenly disqualified.
That’s okay, though. I’m thrilled to have read Allende’s magnificent saga about the Trueba family, but I’m also happy to have discovered the book I ended up reading for Chile – Marcela Serrano’s Ten Women.
Nine women arrive by minivan at a meeting center in the suburbs of Santiago, Chile. Watching them as they walk up the path toward the building is their therapist, Natasha, who has decided to bring them all together for the day. The women gather in a room, but Natasha does not join them. Somehow, they know that they are there to share their stories, and in the next nine chapters, each woman talks about her life and the reasons for her sessions with Natasha.
Lost youth, alcoholism, rape, memories of being molested as a child, and dealing with a family member who suffers from depression are some of the reasons why her patients have sought out Natasha. The women come from a variety of different socioeconomic backgrounds because, as one woman says, “I’m here because half of us pay for Natasha’s services while the other half doesn’t. That’s the way she views her profession: the wealthiest pay for the poorest.”
For me, the most poignant story was from Luisa, one of the women whose treatment is subsidized. She is 67 years old, but still trying to come to terms with the disappearance of her husband at the hands of government forces following the military coup in the 1970s. She has stayed in the same place all these years in case he comes back. Luisa tells the other women: “You know the worst thing that can happen to a human being? To disappear. Dying is much better than disappearing.”
At the end of the book, we also learn Natasha’s story, and then the women return to their lives. Ten Women is not so much a novel as it is a collection of character studies held together by the slimmest of plots. Still, I loved getting to know all these women, and I hope other books by this author will be translated into English in the future.
If you’ve ever looked at labels in the produce department in your local grocery store, you probably already know that Chile has a very robust agricultural industry, and both The House of the Spirits and Ten Women are full of references to the fresh fruits and vegetables grown there – pears, oranges, apples, corn, peaches, and artichokes, to name a few. There aren’t too many mentions of actual Chilean dishes though, so I turned to the Internet once again. When I found this recipe at thespruce.com for pumpkin sopapillas, I knew I wasn’t going to look any further. This is the pumpkin spice time of year, after all! I cheated a little, using canned pumpkin instead of dealing with a fresh one, and I substituted Earth Balance spread for the butter. I consider deep-fat frying to be a total pain in the neck, but it was completely worth it for these amazing goodies. The brown sugar syrup was the perfect accompaniment.
GlobalGiving.com is my go-to platform for making donations for this blog, and they had a few projects in Chile listed on their website. After reading about all the problems facing Natasha’s patients in Ten Women, I really wanted to donate to an organization providing services to Chilean women, but none of the GlobalGiving projects pertained to women. So I did the next best thing and chose a project organized by VE Global that helps at-risk children in Santiago. According to the project description, “Chile has one of the strongest economies in Latin America, yet it suffers from a drastic income inequality. This results in vital services for children being vastly unequal; the most at-risk children often served by underfunded and understaffed organizations with little hope of changing their situation.”
VE Global is helping to address this inequity by recruiting and training international volunteers to provide extra support to staff in children’s homes, community centers, and schools. They serve as positive role models for the children and implement our VE Global’s educational programs.
More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/ve-global-unite-act-engage-2010-for-chile-kids/.
NEXT STOP: CHINA