The Confidantes, * by Angelina Muñiz-Huberman
The fifteen short stories are structurally linked by two unidentified confidantes-narrators who are alter egos of the author. They also set the pattern for the thematic doubles: Spain/México, past/present, daughter/mother, reality/fantasy. Muñiz¿s predilection for the double was explicity expressed in her 1987 volume De magias y prodigios: ¿Siempre el duplicado. El doblete. El doblez. El dúo. Dos. No existe la unidad¿ (12). Most of the protagonists in Las confidentes are Spanish women who have resettled in México as a result of the 1936-1939 Civil War. Nonetheless, a feeling of nostalgia for Spain predominates over the difficulties of displacement and readjustment. In ¿El mensaje¿, the seventy-year-old Paula, in México, affectionately recalls her childhood in Spain. The unusual twist is that at a bullfight she was separated from her parents and a married couple invited her to live with them. She spent two happy days in their home until the police arrived and returned her to her parents. She continued to visit her ¿adoptive¿ parents and actually preferred them to her real ones. Now that she is close to death, her children and grandchildren have grown tired of listening to her stories. The last line explains the title. Paula leaves the message under the tablecloth: ¿Children mean nothing¿ (63). A less complex companion piece, ¿Regalo esperado¿, focuses on the fifty-year-old Spanish refugee Aniella. A liberated woman whose mother and siblings had been unable to escape from Franco Spain, Aniella reveals the nature of the gift at the end of the story: she plans to ¿divorce¿ her family in México and return to Spain.
The conflict between mother and daughter is more explicit in three other stories. The first one of the collection, ¿Los brazos necesitan almohadas¿, may be considered the prototype. After ruminating poetically for two pages on the problem of where to place her arms while sleeping, the narrator states unemphatically the story¿s theme: her reluctance to identify with her mother. While lying awake in bed, she remembers the exodus from Spain as a young child, the ocean voyage tinged with magic, the equally magical memories of the three years spent in Cuba, and the plane ride to Mérida and México City. At that point, the narrator reveals what may be cause of her alienation from both mother and father. She recalls that as a child she felt embarrassed by their Spanish accent and vocabulary which caused communication problems with their Mexican neighbors. The closed construction of the arms problem --a small feather pillow is needed for each arm-- contrasts the apparently trivial fantasizing with the real albeit de-emphasized social and psychological conflicts.
In ¿Fragmentos de madre o la imposibilidad de hacer preguntas¿, the narrator confesses how she hated her mother for having dominated her and for having indoctrinated her with negative stories about her father and his family. In ¿Soy bruja¿, a Spanish refugee named Cervantina who foresees the future fears competition from her toddler daughter. However, this conflict disappears as Cervantina becomes the owner of a successful pastry shop in México. As she grows older, her predictions diminish in importance.
Although the relationship between mother and daughter or two other women predominates in the collection, it is not necessarily a hostile one. In fact, in ¿Una prima en Casablanca¿, the narrator identifies so much with her protagonist, whose adventurous life she is familiar with only through hearsay, that she develops a schizophrenic relationship with her. The episodes are interlaced with metafiction and the cousin¿s story is mediated through the Humphrey Bogart films Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. A somewhat similar but more realistic relationship between narrator and protagonist informs ¿La niña de Auschwitz¿. The narrator is attracted to her new, somewhat older classemate in a Mexican private school. Little by little, the protagonist reveals her tragic experience in a concentration camp. By unburdening herself, she feels better but the narrator suffers vicariously.
In two other stories, the narrator is obsessed with recollections through paintings of her birthplace on the Riviera and a small port in Catalonia. In ¿Paul Klee en Heyères¿, the narrator identifies with Klee because he lived and painted in the same town where she was born, even though she spent only five days there. More poignantly, Klee died of the same disease from which she suffers. In ¿Un pequeño puerto catalán¿, the protagonist (not the narrator) is obsessed with a landscape painting of a small Catalonia port, which represents her Spanish past. Her obsession is so great that it even causes her to lose the man she loves. The reader will ultimately determine the endind of the story after overhearing the dialogue between the two confidantes.
With the publication of her fifth volume of short stories, in addition to her three lyrical historical novels set in medieval and Golden Age Spain, two books on Hispanic-Hebraic culture, and two collections of autobiographical essays and memoirs, Angelina Muñiz has established a solid reputation as one of México¿s better women writers, one of México¿s Jewish writers, one of México¿s better Spanish refugee writers, and indeed, one of México¿s better contemporary writers.
* México City. Tusquets. 1997. 161 pages. ISBN 968 7723-23-8.