Cantoras: A Novel
by Carolina De Robertis
Knopf. 317 pages. $26.95
IN 1977, the year in which Carolina De Robertis’ novel Cantoras opens, Cabo Polonio was a remote fishing village, a rocky yet serene outcropping on the coast of Uruguay. When the novel begins, its five main characters—Romina, Flaca, Paz, Malena, and Anita a.k.a. La Venus—arrive at the village late at night, having endured a five-hour-long bus ride and the warnings of a cart driver who said they would find nothing in Polonio, to escape the oppression of Montevideo, where the women could be not be themselves without the threat of torture or even death at the hands of the brutal, homophobic dictatorship. They are cantoras, which we learn is a slang term for queer women. For cantoras, Polonio is a reprieve, the one safe space they can claim for themselves in a country that wants them dead. No wonder that they cling to it even after their vacation from their lives is over.
After a week of freedom—of sex in the open and roasting fish over an open fire—the five women reluctantly return to their lives. Some have husbands; others have jobs.
Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast.