Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2020
1872. The pampas of Argentina. China is a young woman eking out an existence in a remote gaucho encampment. After her no-good husband is conscripted into the army, China bolts for freedom, setting off on a wagon journey through the pampas in the company of her new-found friend Liz, a settler from Scotland. While Liz provides China with a sentimental education and schools her in the nefarious ways of the British Empire, their eyes are opened to the wonders of Argentina’s richly diverse flora and fauna, cultures and languages, as well as to the ruthless violence involved in nation-building.
This subversive retelling of Argentina’s foundational gaucho epic Martín Fierro is a celebration of the colour and movement of the living world, the open road, love and sex, and the dream of lasting freedom. With humour and sophistication, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara has created a joyful, hallucinatory novel that is also an incisive critique of national myths.
Set in 1872 Argentina, the latest from Cabez n C mara (Slum Virgin) reinterprets Jos Hern ndez's classic poem "Mart n Fierro" as a relaxed feminist travelogue from the perspective of Fierro's wife, an initially nameless servant who adopts the moniker China Iron. After Fierro leaves for battle on the frontier, China Iron joins Elizabeth, a settler from Scotland whose husband was also drafted by the army, on a covered wagon journey to find Elizabeth's husband and to start a new life on a plot of land deep within indigenous territory. While navigating the pampas, Elizabeth teaches China Iron English and they fall in love, though China Iron is unsure if their first kiss "was a British custom or an international sin." Throughout, China Iron chronicles the landscape, and Cabez n C mara's prose beautifully traces her protagonist's curiosity. In brief chapters, the group reaches a military fort run by Hern ndez, a drunk colonel, who recites his poem based on Mart n, and whom Elizabeth hoodwinks to obtain supplies. From here, the characters drive deeper into the unknown and toward a conclusion that puts a new spin on Hern ndez's gaucho anthem. Cabez n C mara's exciting LGBTQ look at pioneers of the pampas makes for a rewarding and subversive treat.