A life reconstructed


Maria Gabriela Ini’s character Ana M poses intriguing questions about fiction and reality


Ana M. 1945
Maria Gabriela Ini
2001, Beatriz Viterbo
444 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

LIKE many fantastic stories, this novel starts with Maria Gabriela Ini becoming the voice of the protagonist, explaining that she once was handed the diary of painter Ana Miller by her devoted friend Bruno Tahler, who told her that Ana M. had died in a fire, surrounded by all her works.

Captivated, Ini read the entire contents of the diary in one night, and decided then that Ana should be brought back to life by means of a book.

In the preface Ini explains: “Entering into a personal diary is a task that gives you the privileges of ethnographic practice. It mixes the fantasy of the most beautiful fiction with the fascination of the presence of the cruellest of realities. It confuses and mesmerises.”

The reconstruction of a life through the writing of the protagonist envelops readers in an undecipherable storm of memories and sensations that they can make their own voyeuristically.

In this way Ini, as the voice of Ana M., handles different kinds of text, going from interviews, newspaper items, poetry, and margin notes in the style of Mexican religious retablos which were supposed to accompany Ana’s paintings. She manages to create the testimony of a wounded woman going from the creative process to being in love, being rejected, having children, and looking into her ethnic origins, expressed in a language without prejudices and searching for truths.

Catatonic detachment

One learns that Ana was deeply affected first by her own mother’s catatonic detachment from life, then her death and her father’s silent loyalty to her memory. Ana’s escape from a very early age was painting.

When she was 17 she travelled with her father to study art in Europe. There, she met Max Ernest and Leonora Carrington, the latter sparking in her a passion for depicting dreams as a way of challenging the traditional concept of art.

Ana also finds her father’s diary, which provokes more hidden emotions. And the fragments of her own diary reveal an ardent and extreme life ignited and domesticated at the same time by the mere act of writing. At the end of the day, it is up to the reader to pick up the remaining pieces.

With the creation of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo movement in Argentina, and their main demand “Where are our disappeared? They still exist!” the importance of women demanding answers of a male-dominated, tyrannical regime created a new language in Latin America. New literary trends appeared and it was women who added in their prose a deeply confessional twist.

Ini is no novice in the art of uncovering obscure women and gender issues. In the Nineties, she co-edited Historia de Las Mujeres en la Argentina along with other influential voices of Argentinian feminist studies such as Fernanda Gil Lozano and Valeria Silvina Pita.

In Ana M. 1945, Ini has created an artist who is almost real – or was she real? The diary of Ana M. is almost the voice of a ghost, as are all the people in the text. All the necessary elements to start a myth are there and the result is a tragic text defining the condition of women in a period that defined modern Argentina.

Ana Miller wrote this diary over 13 years spanning 1945-1956, departing from the point of photographer Santiago Valladares, the most important man in her life. Whether the tormented Ana or indeed any of the people mentioned in the book really existed or not, the best part of this story is the mystery of the artist’s life, her vivid and colourful imagery of love and desolation, the intensity of the passion expressed in her words and how Ini manages to convey her character.

The cover of the book represents a painting attributed to Ana, depicting a Minotaur taking a woman from behind. Pain and loneliness are present in almost all her paintings: depictions of women and violence, madness, bestiality and death. Reading the diaries one can learn that the Minotaur was a recurrent theme in her art.

Readers will be forgiven for thinking that Miller’s works – if they really existed – could have been comparable to those of Frida Kahlo, as both artists painted a dreamlike world that emerged from within, but here the parallel ends. Although both were women tormented by love and betrayal, and shared a Jewish heritage, what for Kahlo would have been a defiant pink or blue, communism and Viva la Vida, for spectral Miller is an ochre and blood red, personal loss and even the motto Welcome to my Nightmare.

Moreover, drifting away from the reality of a turbulent Argentina in the time of Perón, Miller chooses to alienate herself from in-house politics and to sink deeply into the awful events that took place in Ravensbruck on the other side of the Atlantic. The reader may think that Ini wasted the opportunity to highlight the contemporary plight of women or the weight of the dictatorship when Ana discovered her own naivety in believing that she was equal to her husband or her lover before Argentinian women had been granted the right to vote.

The biggest question in this book will be: what do Ini/Ana M. want you to know? Are there any points at which they tacitly ask the reader to compare the persecution of Jews in Europe in the 40s with the anti-Semitic agenda alleged to have been behind the viciousness against intellectuals and artists by the military junta of the 70s? It is certainly not clear. Does this book compare women with a persecuted minority?

Ana M. clearly describes the vulnerability of a woman, but it also describes that in a woman’s mind can be a world as challenging as any of Georges Bataille’s proposals.

Anyhow, by bringing us this story, Ini has certainly brought the existence of a woman into history by acknowledging her life in the public realm of literature.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

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