August 2, 2021

the tough guys from Chile

“Les Bâtardes” (Quiltras), by Arelis Uribe, translated from Spanish (Chile) by Marianne Million, Quidam editor, 106 p., € 14, digital € 10.

Girls trained in street schools have more stories to tell than those from upscale neighborhoods. This is the impression given by this first collection of short stories by the Chilean writer and journalist Arelis Uribe, born in 1987 in Santiago. The “bastards” of the title are an armful of girls of various ages – from pre-adolescence to early adulthood – from the working-class middle class of Chile. Protagonists and narrators of each of the book’s seven texts, they relate their daily life on the fringes of what they think is “real” life.

Fates plotted in advance

In “Italia”, a young mixed-race teacher from an underprivileged background in the suburbs of Santiago finds herself projected into a magical world, after falling in love with a white high school student from an upscale district of the capital. “In these stories, I took the place of the heroine, and it was I who had my teeth straightened at 8 years old, who had always gone to restaurants. (…). It was I who played with uncles filmmakers or teachers at [l’université] La Chile rather than ice cream vendors or taxi drivers, I had a room for myself and swam on Saturdays in January in the cement pool in the garden. “ But this wonder will be short-lived and it is ultimately all the fate traced in advance of the well-born Italia, promised a bright but unsurprising future, which will push her lover to flee her.

In a raw writing, both distant and intimate, Arelis Uribe unfilteredly depicts the precariousness, material and emotional, of these girls. Like this modest social worker (“Le Kiosque”), sent to a college in the heart of the Mapuche country: an establishment so disadvantaged, with its pupils already mothers and its makeshift infrastructure, that it does not fit into any of the boxes provided for by the equivalent of national education.

Class complexes

No darkness, no miserability in these portraits of tough guys tirelessly rolling up their sleeves to face an unpleasant reality. Arelis Uribe sketches with tact the way his heroines forge a shell right out of childhood. So it is with this student who returns home alone at dawn, scared to death, and adopts, during her journey, a stray dog ​​about to give birth (“Beasts”); Protected by the animal, she must in turn try to save it from the assaults of a German Shepherd, in a surprising explosion of rage.

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