This article is from the April 2004 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Women with Big Eyes

by Angeles Mastretta(translated from the Spanish by Amy Schildhouse Greenberg)Riverhead, $24.95, 372 pages

Reviewed by Gale RandallFor those fans of Mexico City writer Angeles Mastretta's award-winning novel Lovesick and her equally absorbing Tear This Heart Out, yet another Mastretta classic, the international bestseller, Women With Big Eyes, has recently appeared in English. Originally intended as a memoir for Mastretta’s daughter about the extraordinary women of their Puebla family, and first published in Spanish in 1990, Women With Big Eyes is organized as a collection of short stories, or vignettes, about the daily lives, loves and intrigues of 39 aunties, “tias” – Aunt Elena, Aunt Ofelia, Aunt Cecilia, and so on. These aunties are for the most part upper class Poblanos (Pueblans) living in the first half of the 20th century, and well before the women’s movement had made even a blip in Mexico. The sketches often find the characters at pivotal moments in a woman’s life and Mastretta does a marvelous job of revealing what’s going on in their interior lives.One of my favorite stories concerns Aunt Cristina, a woman apparently destined for lifelong spinsterhood. Cristina surprises all by marrying by proxy a mysterious Spanish stranger, returning a cheerful widow to Puebla only a year later – and to rumors that her marriage was pure fabrication. Or the story of Aunt Valeria: “Never was there seen in Puebla a woman more in love or more solicitous than the ever robust Aunt Valeria.” Her secret: “You need only close your eyes,” said Valeria, “and make of yourhusband whoever most appeals to you: Pedro Armendariz or Humphrey Bogart, Manolete or the governor....”

And then there is Aunt Leonor, from all accounts happily married with three children to a much older notary public, that is, until she reconnects with Sergio, her cousin and childhood playmate with whom she was warned she had no future, since “cousins can’t marry each other, because God would punish them with children who acted like drunkards.”Following these women through their daily lives – in their exquisite tiled mansions, in the markets, or trying to survive on haciendas half-ruined by war and revolution, the stories of Women With Big Eyes evoke the sights, sounds and aromas of a Puebla that probably no longer exists, but they make wonderfully escapist reading for any romantic contemplating, or not even contemplating, a future trip to that fascinating city.Though a bit rocky in spots, the English translation comprises the first half of Women With Big Eyes, the second half containing the original Spanish version, Mujeres de Ojos Grandes.