Review: Ten Women – Marcella Serrano

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As the title suggests, Marcella Serrano’s Ten Women (AmazonCrossing, translated from Spanish by Beth Fowler) is a collection of stories detailing the lives of ten women in the Chilean city of Santiago. Nine of the women are patients of the tenth, Natasha; a psychologist who has brought them all together to meet for the first time. One by one, the women share their life stories.

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From Mané, the 75-year-old former actress, to Guadalupe, a 19-year-old lesbian in therapy on her mother’s orders, each character introduces herself, her life, and the factors that brought her to Natasha. Some even talk about the work they have done in therapy, and the importance of sharing their experiences in gaining meaning and closure from the traumas they have endured.


Heartfelt and raw, the women’s lives are both unique and universal. From marital boredom to financial stress, sexual assault to sexual identity, Serrano has brought together a cross-section of society whose joys and woes are at once captivating and familiar. Irrespective of the woman’s age, class, culture or personal circumstances, there are elements of each story that evoke a sense of connection to her, and, as the stories progress, draws together the many threads of humanity that are common to us all.

These beautiful stories each contain enough passion, excitement, drama, conflict and honesty to warrant their own novel, but there is little in the form of a narrative arc to hold them all together in this novel. In presenting their lives, the women occasionally make reference to those whose stories have already been told, but these are passing mentions rather than in depth dialogue or exploration, and it is unclear why they have all come together in this time and place. What was the therapist’s purpose in calling this meeting? That Natasha does not even appear to be present in the room does nothing to clarify this ambiguity or bring the narrative from disparate stories to a cohesive whole.

 

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Like the therapy space itself, the setting for the meeting is neutral; an “institute” with gardens and a minivan to bring the women together, able to blend into the background and provide a blank canvas for the patients to tell their stories. That these contain universal themes does not also make them neutral, and the venue does not detract from the broader setting of post-Pinochet Chile. Many of the women have travelled – most often to the USA – and this provides something of a more familiar counterpointe to the hardships and persecutions of life under the dictatorship. At times, the book assumes a level of knowledge of the Pinochet regime that could perhaps have been briefly clarified in the translation, but overall these episodes in the women’s lives create a desire to know more and understand better. This, in turn, can only help to further connect us to others, irrespective of our own time and place in the world.

 
 
 
 
 
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Ten Women is a glimpse into lives that are simultaneously familiar and unknown, in a way that leaves the reader wanting to know more. Lovers of essays and short stories, who are comfortable with collections of unconnected works, may enjoy this book more than those with a preference for novels, who could find the disconnected narratives frustrating.

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