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Book Review: Incurables: Relatos de dolencias y males, edited by Oswaldo Estrada

Estrada, Oswaldo, editor. Incurables: Relatos de dolencia y males. Ars Communis Editorial, 2020. 228 pages.

¿En qué país estamos, Agripina? [What country are we in, Agripina?]

In his introduction to Incurables: Relatos de dolencias y males, Oswaldo Estrada reminds readers that “las dolencias y males siempre han producido prejuicios, miedos, pánico. Hay males visibles e invisibles, crónicos o pasajeros, tratables o incurables” [ailments and illnesses have always produced prejudices, fears, panic. There are visible and invisible illnesses, chronic or temporary, treatable or incurable] (9).

Illness and other physiological conditions that cause the body to not be well are a part of the quotidian human experience, as reflected in everyday figures of speech (Estrada 9). In Spanish, if we do not like someone, we say that the person “tiene mala sangre” [has bad blood], “malos hígados” [bad liver], or “mala entraña” [bad guts]. Beyond language, Estrada draws attention to “enfermedades que entran sin llamar a la puerta” [illnesses that enter without knocking on the door] (10), such as COVID-19 of the current times, and illnesses of the past, such as the Bubonic Plague, syphilis, measles, chicken pox, cholera, the Spanish Flu, and Ebola. Across the centuries, there has been a latent fear that the body would be exposed to germs, at risk, or in danger.

At the time of writing, March 2020, Estrada notes that the United States was in the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Trump administration moved forward with the plans to build a wall along the southern border. Having eradicated Spanish from all online content associated with the White House, Estrada describes the plan to build a wall as “enfermizo” [sickly], noting that this was an “era de crímenes ocasionados por el odio al otro y la intolerancia racial” [era of crimes caused by hatred of the other and racial intolerance] (13). Incurables, then, is very much a reckoning with these contexts of physiological and social malady. Representing a plurality of Latin American migrant subjectivities, the authors featured in Incurables write from a variety of perspectives about the pains, maladies, and at times, illnesses that go along with migrating from diverse regions of Latin America to the US.

Incurables features twenty short stories by authors born in the 1970s and 1980s from across Latin America, all of whom are currently residing in the US. There are authors from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America: Mabel Cuesta (Cuba), Carlos Vázquez Cruz (Puerto Rico), Carlos Villacorta González (Peru), Claudia Salazar Jiménez (Peru), Hernán Vera Álvarez (aka Vera, Argentina), Melanie Márquez Adams (Ecuador), Naida Saavedra (Venezuela), Liliana Colanzi (Bolivia), Jennifer Thorndike (Peru), Oswaldo Estrada (born in USA, but grew up in Peru), Ramonjo Serra (México), Juan Vitulli (Argentina), Azucena Hernández (México), Mariana Graciano (Argentina), Daniel Quirós (Costa Rica), Rey Andújar (Dominican Republic), Ulises Gonzales (Peru), Sebastián Antezana (born in Mexico, but grew up in Bolivia), Keila Vall de la Ville (Venezuela), and Alexis Iparraguirre (Peru). Though there are more voices from Mexico and Peru, this does not deter from the breadth and geographic scope of the volume.

The twenty authors’ experiences are uniquely from the perspectives of academics from Latin America, currently based in the United States. They are the creators of what Cristina Rivera Garza describes as the “New New Latino Literature.” For example, Rey Andújar’s contribution, “Formas del beso que vendrá” [Forms of a kiss that is coming], speaks to this academic context. The setting of the story takes place at the Modern Language Association (MLA) convention, the annual convention for cultural and literary scholars. Estrada notes that in many ways the stories are born from a position of privilege in the academy, yet that protective umbrella is fragile: it is easily lost when one steps off the protective confines of the university campus (14).

The authors write from their desarraigo, their uprooting, alienation, and/or estrangement. They write in Spanish as a political act to say “aquí estamos, esta es nuestra lengua” [we are here, this is our language] (Ariel 2020). The authors use their language as a tool in order to reaffirm the migrant experience as one of pain: “casi siempre uno explica ese sentimiento en términos de alguna enfermedad” [almost always one explains that feeling in terms of some disease] (Ariel 2020).

The themes at the crux of migration and global health in Incurables appeal to a variety of readers interested in LatinX studies, medical humanities, cultural and literary studies, medical anthropology, and more. The plurality of voices in the collection adds nuance to current understandings of LatinX experiences and the challenges with residing in the United States.

Works Cited:

Ariel, Edgar. “Oswaldo Estrada conversa sobre el libro ‘Incurables. Relatos de dolencias y males.’” Rialta, Alianza Iberoamericana para la Literatura las Artes y el Pensamiento, 30 July 2020, https://rialta.org/oswaldo-estrada-incurables-relatos-dolencias-y-males/.

Rivera Garza, Cristina. “The New New Latino Writing.” Ventana abierta 35-38 (2014): 72-74.

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