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Torn from the Nest by Clorinda Matto de…
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Torn from the Nest (1889)

by Clorinda Matto de Turner

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Clorinda Matto de Turner was a well known Peruvian author at the end of the 19th century, and highly controversial for her stances on the rights of women and indigenous people. At a time and society in which a woman's place was considered to be the home, she became a journalist, editor and author: founding El Recreo de Cusco, a magazine featuring literary and education-related articles; editing several of Peru's major newspapers; and, eventually, becoming director of El Peru Ilustrado, one of the leading literary journals in South America. After her expulsion from Peru, she relocated to Buenos Aires, where she founded Búcaro Americano, a literary journal focused on promoting education for women.

Torn from the Nest was Matto de Turner's first and most controversial of three novels, weaving together two story lines intended to outrage the establishment. The first was the plight of the native population. Their lot in 19th century Peru was little more than serfdom, including forced labor, outright robbery and casual rape...all with little fear of reprisal. Matto de Turner witnessed this first-hand upon moving to a small Andean town with her husband and loudly took up the cause.

In the story Fernando and Lucía Marín, well-to-do investors from Lima, move to the town of Kíllac, where they behave with general benevolence. They are disturbed at some of the customs of the area regarding the Amerindians, such as advanced payments (where a buyer pays a tiny fee allowing him to demand a certain quantity of product from a farmer at a price later set solely by the buyer) and the heavy fees imposed by the Church to bury the dead. However, their feelings turn to horror when Lucía is approached for help by a mother—unless her husband can meet an advanced payment buyer's demands, her daughters will be taken and sold into brothels to recover the "debt". The Maríns' actions create an open and violent breach with the established powers of the town.

The second thread of the story was equally infuriating to conservative readers of the day. Manuel, son of the local governor, and Margarita, daughter of two Andean peasants, fall in love with each other. Inter-racial/inter-class attachments were scandalous in upper-class Peruvian society, which considered non-whites as, by definition, savages.

If those topics weren't enough, what ensured that this novel would provoke a storm was the author's choice of targets. Not only did she expose the government and judicial authorities responsible, but she included the Church in the list of culprits. The priests in the story are as tarred as the rest when it comes to murder, rape and robbery. Her refusal to exempt this untouchable sphere...even though she considered herself a good Catholic...is not surprising, given her literary philosophy. As she said in her preface, "...the task of the novel is to be a photograph..." or, in an article, "...we must faithfully present what we see that others may judge." The result was, perhaps, predictable. She was excommunicated by the Catholic Church, burned in effigy, her house and presses destroyed and, after a few years of refusing to recant, she was expelled from Peru by the military dictatorship.

All this makes for an interesting book. When considered solely as a story line, the book is not particularly noteworthy; the plot is very simple and the language (at least in translation) is a bit sentimental. For me, the value of this lies in its portrayal of late-colonial Peru.

A highly-bowdlerized translation, Birds from the Nest, was produced in 1904 with Matto de Turner's ending replaced with one created by the translator. It was republished in 1995 as Birds Without a Nest with the missing pieces and the original ending restored by University of Texas Press. The present edition contains a new translation commissioned by Oxford University Press as part of their Library of Latin America.

One final note—if you don't like spoilers, avoid the summary on the back of the book as it reveals the ending of the story to an unfortunate degree. ( )
15 vote TadAD | Mar 11, 2010 |
written in 1889; well-meaning moralistic novel by a Peruvian reformist woman, about the mistreatment of the native people, mistreatment of women, militarism, corruption, and I guess particularly about the corruption of the Church, and the evil of trying to enforce celibacy.
  franoscar | Jan 5, 2009 |
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Original title: Aves sin nido. Published as Birds without a Nest and as Torn from the Nest.
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"Much-needed new English-language version of Aves sin nido (1889). Work comprises Lindstrom's excellent introduction to the novel and her emendation of the first English translation (by J.G. Hudson, 1904). Lindstrom explains that she restored and translated author's preface and the other material excised or suppressed by the previous translator; returned chapters to their original order; and, in some instances, made the English more accurate or precise. Highly recommended"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.… (more)

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