This article is from the June 2000 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Book Review
Tear This Heart Out

Riverhead Books, $12.00 paper

Riverhead Books, $13.00 paper

both books are translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.

Reviewed by Gale Randall 
Gale Randall is a Mexicophile hailing from Palo Alto, California.

Outside of Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel, few Latin American novelistas have been well known in North America. That situation is likely to change with the publication in English of two novels by the popular Mexico City writer, Angeles Mastretta. The characters in Tear This Heart Out and Lovesick inhabit the ostensibly conservative, yet eccentric, milieu of upper class poblanos (Pueblans) during the first decades of the 20th century, a society in which women, especially married women were “to worry only about the desires of others, to quietly enjoy the plants and the fish bowl, unfolded socks and tidy drawers.” Mastretta's protagonists, it seems, find they have more than these limited expectations for their lives.  

“I met him in one of the cafes under the arches. Where else would it have been, since in Puebla everything happened in the arcades, from courtships to assassinations – as if no other place existed.” So begins Tear This Heart Out, the often hilarious saga of the guileless teenager, Catalina Guzman, and Andres Ascencio, a politically ambitious retired general who’s twenty years her senior. Privy to rumors that he’s a philanderer and madman, Catalina nonetheless falls recklessly in love with Andres, “listening to his instructions like they came from god.” It’s not until after they're married, though, that she begins to fully grasp the extent of his ruthlessness and womanizing. As Ascencio grapples for political control, Catalina embarks on a journey toward self‑actualization and independence. Tear This Heart Out, which is Mastretta's first novel, is set in the heady years following the Mexican Revolution of 1911. A best seller in Latin America which has been translated into twelve languages, the novel is soon to appear as a film.  

In Lovesick, also being developed as a film, and covering the revolution and pre‑revolutionary years, Mastretta asks whether it’s possible for a woman to love more than one man at the same time. She has created Emilia Sauri and effectively puts the question to her. Emilia is the daughter of a Mayan curandero and a devoted herbalist mother who has a passion for Zola and a soup to cure every form of emotional distress. But she most importantly comes under the tutelage of the radical Milagros, a fiercely independent aunt who frequently finds herself at the center of political skirmishes. Early on, Emilia's heart is captured by her childhood playmate, Daniel Cuenca, Milagros’ godson and the son of a gentleman who sponsors weekly salons for Puebla’s free‑thinking activists and intellectuals. At the crux of the narrative is how Emilia resolves her conflict over her attachment to the restless Daniel, who continually leaves her to follow the most promising revolutionary leader of the moment, and the more stable Dr. Zavalza, with whom she shares a passion for medicine. Mastretta, whose well‑developed characters often find themselves in zany and fantastical situations, has said she likes to give her readers “an airplane ticket to another world.” Another world indeed.... 

Possessing a deft literary style reminiscent of  the best of Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this Puebla native who was born in 1949, is a welcome addition to the growing ranks of Latin American women novelists.