Jorge Isaacs published his novel María in 1867. The novella tells the story of the frustrated love between Efraín and María, an orphaned cousin whom Efraín’s father adopts and who grows up with them in a beautiful country house in the Valle del Cauca. The landscape is also a protagonist. Isaacs describes Valle del Cauca as a place of bewildering beauty. María is dominated by orchards, rose gardens, orange groves, and, of course, mountains—“the bare ridges of the mountains against the starry background of the sky” (Chapter 3). Isaacs began writing María while working as an inspector of the road being built along the Pacific (Sommer 447), yet the road rarely makes an appearance in the novel. My mom, dad, and grandparents read María, and its readership continues to multiply today. If not the “national novel” of Colombia, María is one of the literary texts that circulates most in this country’s formal education and in the imagination of its people.
Why begin a dossier on Pilar Quintana by talking about Isaacs? Because of the landscape of Valle del Cauca, because of how Isaacs inscribed that region in the national imaginary, because of the coastline he left aside, and because Quintana takes it up again. The Bitch (2017) brings us the sound of water droplets falling on a tin roof, the voluptuous heat of the jungle, the image of a black woman lying on a mat waiting for time to pass, the same woman cleaning and fighting against the humidity that thickens the air and sticks to everything in the house.
When we asked Quintana about the Pacific, and about how she brought it into the national imaginary—an imaginary where the Caribbean, the Andean landscape, and overused yellow butterflies seem to dominate—she answered that, although in Colombia’s “great literature” the Caribbean prevails, the “great romantic novel is from the Valle del Cauca, and it is made by people from Cali. And I am heir to that tradition.”
Besides drawing from a tradition in which the landscape is the protagonist, Pilar Quintana also draws from a tradition more centered on Cali. Within this tradition, she echoes the narrative of Andrés Caicedo, with a bit of his delirium, violence, and decadence. But in addition to that, she engages with literature made by women. She does so not only as a writer but also as an editor of the Library of Colombian Women Writers, a project she coordinates with the Ministry of Culture and the National Library of Colombia.
This dossier consists of an interview and two essays. In the interview, Quintana identifies desire and animality as the great axes of her narrative. She has explored them through two main themes—sex and motherhood—and delved into the intensity, violence, and irrationality they enclose and unleash. In the first essay, “From Subversion to Upholding the Status Quo,” Leonardo Gil Gómez revisits Pilar Quintana’s third novel, Conspiración iguana (2009). He pays close attention to the motifs and formal resources present in Quintana’s latest and most talked-about narrative project. Social criticism takes the form of a conspiracy centered on the figure of a self-help guru and the emporium he has built. In the second essay, “The (In)edible Wolf: Infidelity, Rape, and Other Violences in the Stories of Pilar Quintana,” Ruth N. Solarte-Hensgen analyzes two stories from Caperucita se come al lobo (2012). Solarte shows how Quintana departs from narco-aesthetics and, instead of offering us its commonplace sumptuous gloating, she narrates the consequences of the hierarchies of that world. She also explores how Caperucita represents the prevalence of patriarchy in different contexts and the use of sexual violence as a punitive instrument.
Translated by Ana Gabriela Pérez Guarnizo