Writers, editors, and cultural organizers from different parts of the Ecuadorian literary and cultural world react to the impact of Mónica Ojeda’s work on Latin American literature and their own bodies of work.
Ojeda: The Trap
Mónica Ojeda (Guayaquil, 1988) is the figurehead of the newest generation of Ecuadorian fiction writers, whose work has the potential to reach the highest peaks of contemporary world literature. Her name resonates in the new canon of Latin American women writers, tagged in the book market as representing the Andean gothic, which in recent years has earned global popularity. Not limiting themselves to the reinvention of a single genre, this wave of successful women authors breathes new effervescence into a literature that had been trapped in the final echoes of the mid-twentieth-century boom. Their writing is captivating because, using language that skirts the supernatural and the fantastic, they contain a violence that reflects the political and social contexts of a region that refuses to stop bleeding.
Mónica Ojeda’s writing rummages through the occult, in those corners of reality that are relegated to shadow such that the world should not shake and chaos should not devour us. Sexuality that unfurls as perversely as it does naturally, volatile limits between pain and pleasure, brilliance rendered madness, and the normalized violence that throttles our everyday existence are all present in her stories. They disturb readers just as they seduce them, obliging us to face the brutality that dwells within us. Like the siren’s song, the aesthetic elegance of her prose drags us into darkness until we fall, hapless, into the flaws of the starkest horror. Ojeda’s is literature that betrays the triumph of the ominous, the latent permanence of evil in our lives.
Abril Altamirano, writer and editor
Mónica Ojeda: Our Southern Cross
I first learned of Mónica Ojeda from Ulises Estrella, that writer who made a Shuar blowgun of his mouth, turning every word into a dart shot from the undergrowth of Tzantzismo. She fascinated him because she grew (rather than shrinking) her head upon creating Gianella Silva, the only woman Tzantzist, the protagonist of her first novel, La desfiguración Silva. Then, sounding more like a proud grandfather than a literary aesthete, he said, “I may be Estrella, but Mónica was made to shine brighter.” And this captain of literature made no mistake: Mónica is indeed a star set in the firmament of letters, and not just any star; she has become our Southern Cross, and she guides navigators and castaways, sailors and pirates alike with her literary cartography. With her early poetry, she put us ashore at El ciclo de las piedras, and with these same stones she rebuilt the world, telling us the Historia de la leche. With canine-keen senses, she has assembled a volcanic body of work in short fiction, whose creative eruption is as violent as it is gorgeous, prompting us to look up and see Las voladoras. Meanwhile, her novels have not only upsized our heads but also blown our minds. In Nefando she not only displayed the freakiest parts of the deep web; she also dredged up the deepest part of humanity, revealing the twisted reality that sometimes dwells in the guts of the everyday. Likewise, with Mandíbula she turned her readers into Egyptian plovers, those birds that hop into crocodiles’ mouths to feed on pickings from their teeth, and to show us that life is an act of constant danger… a danger that can be overcome through the practice of reading, that complicit act Mónica shares through her writing.
Damián De la Torre Ayora, cultural journalist
The Path of Mónica Ojeda
“What’s here and unused will be the death of us”
Luis Alberto Spinetta
Mónica Ojeda’s work opened a door in Ecuador. A door to something that was already there, beating under the floor, like a tell-tale heart. Something that had its own shape, but not enough space: the possibility of talking about horror and gore as part of our condition as human beings who have grown up with mass media as a window onto the world around us.
A literary possibility, of course, because what Mónica Ojeda makes is literature. Her prose is baroque and fine-tuned. Her characters—especially the women who inhabit her stories—plumb the depths of terror, finding there a certain human essence. Her work tore down the veil of seriousness and politics that had previously clung to the skin of Ecuadorian letters.
This is why she had to come in from the outside.
She had to win the Alba prize for fiction in 2014, in Cuba, with her impressive—and relatively little read—La desfiguración Silva, in order to make herself known in Ecuador. Nefando and Mandíbula were published in Spain by Candaya. These were books—at least Nefando—that Ecuadorian presses didn’t want to touch due to their content. These presses told her to come back when she had something tamer to offer.
Mónica’s path was from the exterior to the interior, from the outside in. This has made her impact all the greater; her work stands at a crossroads. Everything that was once submerged is now floating on the surface. Literature today looks deeply into the self, and for this she is partly to thank.
Eduardo Varas Carvajal, writer and editor
On Mónica Ojeda
There now exists a consensus that Mónica Ojeda’s work is versatile, poetic, violent—to the point of cruelty, but never caricature—delicate, and brutal all at once. With Nefando (2016) she marked the heights of her ability to make poetry of horror: an original heiress of Roberto Bolaño, this novel’s gallery of fright (written when its author was not yet thirty) displays a capacity for writing whose central value is a sort of beautiful cruelty, or cruel beauty; a piercing gaze at horror that grounds its narrative politics on an ethic based on not averting the gaze, on insisting upon impossible—but real—images of a world that is fundamentally dark.
The world we read in Mónica’s writing is merciless and fierce. The fear and pain this literature produces depend not only on the actual stories it tells (which are horrifying, heartrending, and sometimes unbearable), nor on its narrative technique (which is impeccable and frightfully effective), but also on its slow, patient, kaleidoscopic construction, which little by little convinces the reader that there is indeed nowhere to run. No place where harm is not imminent and irreversible, where danger does not lurk, about to ambush us with horror beyond our powers of imagination.
Mónica’s cruel writing is likely as effective and addictive as it is because she never confuses the sovereignty of evil with the abjection of prefabricated horror, with politically dubious caricature, or with underhanded doctrinaire moralizing. When her narrators delve into this world’s ways of chilling even the sturdiest soul, we readers somehow know this is a one-way trip. If we are willing to go along for the ride, there will be no comfort and no lesson at the end: just a radical revulsion of the world, something like a fingernail patiently scratching away at a dermic surface until reaching the bone, leaving it exposed to outside phenomena, until within and without become painfully indistinguishable.
Daniela Alcívar Bellolio, writer and editor
Translated by Arthur Malcolm Dixon