Roza tumba quema. Claudia Hernández. Bogotá: Laguna Libros. 2017. 337 pages.
The Salvadoran Civil War ended almost thirty years ago, yet its devastating impact continues to be felt throughout the diverse layers of Salvadoran society. The ongoing struggle to normalize and rebuild this country, hampered by high unemployment, institutionalized corruption, high emigration rates and the toxic violence generated by the maras persist as obstacles to the normalization of Salvadoran society. Much of the country’s recent literary production reflects on these enduring and residual effects of the war, and the works of writers like Horacio Castellanos Moya, Hernandez, Miguel Huezo Mixco, and Jacinto Escudos reflect its lasting impact and legacy.
Claudia Hernández, a Salvadoran writer whose previous and best known work has been in the short story genre, has publishing several collections set in the post-war setting in her homeland: Mediodía de frontera [Border noon] (2002), Olvida uno [One forgets] (2005), De fronteras [Of borders] (2007), and Causas naturales [Natural causes] (2015). Her first novel, Roza tumba quema [Strokes falls burns] appeared in 2017. The novel, in its intricate and testimonial post-war textures, employs indirect narration that evinces the numerous difficulties a female ex-guerrilla fighter with four adolescent daughters must navigate to survive the intricacies and obstacles in the challenging post-war ambience of El Salvador. The focus and narrative direction of the novel are expressed solemnly and with sincerity by referencing the stories of a series of women, in predominantly feminine spaces. In particular, the multiple struggles of the mother, from her enduring sexual abuses during the war to her subsequent attempt to help her daughters gain access to education, basic housing, employment and to advance toward new spaces of legitimacy are intricate and labyrinthic. In the depiction of this nameless and largely forgotten Central American country,—El Salvador—the obstacles to reaching or achieving a measure of agency are related in great detail from different perspectives in every chapter.
Anonymity and the sense of clandestinidad, both vestiges of the war years, are emphasized continually in Roza tumba quema, in part to underscore the war’s lasting legacy yet also to underscore the injustices women confronted in post-war patriarchal society of El Salvador. Moreover, the anonymity that extends to the total absence of place names throughout the novel, no reference whatsoever to locations that situate the reader in El Salvador other than the recognizable and formidable difficulty that the post war condition has wrought on the fragile Central American republic. Additionally, the stigma of having been a female guerrilla fighter creates a sense of societal dissonance; a hindrance and a symptom of a sense of unrelenting impotence ex-fighters must confront in the post war world of El Salvador. Hence, much of the novel’s focus details the transitioning from a life imperiled by the clandestine maneuvering required by war to the challenges and adjustments of a civil society and its limited opportunity. The entire post war society described in the novel is mired by the asphyxiating framework of patriarchy and class divisions that present a maze of obstacles to overcome for women in the post war ambience. The inherent position of disadvantage occupied by an ex-guerrilla—struggling to assist her daughters in their efforts to access transportation, acquire housing and day care for their newborns as well as to procure access to education and succeed—are all related in granular detail. At the same time, reflection on the results of the commitment to the erstwhile armed struggle and all its dangers is continually juxtaposed with the inherent complexity of the new, equally elusive process of repositioning themselves that these females must undergo in the war-ravished land.
The constant juxtaposition of past—narrated incidents during the war years as a combatant—and the aftermath of war create within the reader an acute awareness of the continuing impact and legacy of war at the family and community level. The perpetual coexistence of the past and present are fully explained as events from the war era resurface and impinge on daily life in the present. In a fashion similar to the way in which the guerrilla movements in El Salvador pointed to the their cause as a means of securing a better future for the nation, a great deal of the novel involves the looking forward in the commitment to children and their upbringing and the mother’s unyielding resolve to secure a future for them. While the challenges connected to bringing up four daughters as a single mother in a war torn land are explored extensively throughout the novel, the ample and necessary space given to her voice is complimented by many other cases of women with similar stories of struggle for survival.
At its core, a central dilemma in the novel reveals the depth of emptiness and loss the civil conflict inflicted on the scarred society. Emblematic of this loss is the mother’s search for her displaced first daughter, born during the war years. The context of guerrilla war and insurgency required the mother to relinquish the care of her daughter while the conflict continues, only to discover that her first daughter has been sold into international adoption in France. The determination and resolve of the mother acquire funding for a ticket in order to meet with her adopted daughter in France together with the awkward exchanges during their meeting in Paris are poignant reminders of the depth of a war’s toll on family integrity. Language barriers, cultural distance, and the estranging force of time all culminate in her failure to achieve a meaningful reunification with her daughter, now acculturated with her adoptive family in France. The pain of separation, in conjunction with the confusion surrounding the placing of her daughter for adoption underscore, in a personal sense, one of the many tragedies portrayed by Hernández in Roza tumba quema. In a larger sense, this fragmentation of families is but one aspect left by the ravishes of the civil war and its lasting impact on Salvadoran society.
University of the Ozarks