Book Launch: Quiltras
Reading and discussion of Arelis Uribe’s Latin American fiction debut
"Quiltro" is the Chilean slang word to name stray, mixed-breed dogs. Arelis Uribe (Santiago, 1987) uses the expression as a metaphor to shape tender female characters that wander in lower-class landscapes, and have nothing to lose but their rebelliousness.
The collection of stories “Quiltras,” Uribe's debut in fiction, was published in Chile in 2016 and since then has been highly praised in every country it has landed in, including Spain, Mexico, Colombia and France. It was listed "one of the best Latin American books of the year" by The New York Times, and has been translated into English by Allison Braden.
Thus, the cultural and community incubator The People's Forum is pleased to host a bilingual reading and discussion of "Quiltras". Uribe will be seconded by New York City writer and educator JP Infante, and the author of the short stories collection based on untranslatable words “Saudade,” Patricia Martín Rivas.
When, and where: Thursday September 8th 2022, at 7.00 PM at The People’s Forum (320 W 37th St, New York, NY 10018)
Read an excerpt from “Quiltras” translated from the Spanish by Allison Braden.
When I was little, my cousin and I used to kiss each other. We dressed up our Barbies, built houses in the dirt, and played hand games. I stayed at her house every other weekend. We slept in her bed. Sometimes we’d take off our pajama tops and play around, touching our nipples to each other. At the time, they were barely two pink stains on a flat torso. My cousin and I had been together since forever: Our moms got pregnant two months apart. They breastfed us together and changed our diapers together. We got chicken pox together. It almost went without saying that when we grew up, we would live together and play house with dolls, but in real life. I thought it would be me and her, always. But adults mess things up.
There were seven siblings in my mom’s family. Three men and four women. The men lived like the brothers they were. They had studied engineering at the same university, liked the same soccer team, and got together to talk about wine and watches. The four women were a disaster. One left to work in Puerto Montt. We were lucky to see her at Christmas. Another followed a boyfriend and had a bunch of kids and lives in Australia now. She barely existed. The two that stayed—my mom and my cousin’s mom, my Aunt Nena—married brutish men. My dad was an animal and so was my cousin’s dad. Like those people who get drunk on New Year’s and make everyone else cry. I never saw the seven siblings reunited. Sometimes we’d run into each other at funerals or when our grandparents celebrated an anniversary. Once, we went to one of our uncles’ plots of land, and there were peacocks in the yard. Pandora, an enormous mutt who killed our neighbors’ cats, barely fit in our house. I never understood why we lived so differently if we were from the same family.
My mom and my Aunt Nena were similar, which is why they were friends. People tend to group themselves by type, in a voluntary segregation, like blood donations or the recycling. Until one day, I don’t remember why, they got mad at each other. Maybe because my mom asked Aunt Nena for money and never paid it back. Maybe because my aunt came to lunch and criticized the food. I don’t know, but they got mad at each other, and what always happens in a family like mine happened: instead of resolving their problems, they quit speaking. I suppose it was a truce, an act of faith. They trusted that silence would dissolve the problems and that by not naming them, they would cease to exist.
For my cousin and I, the distance happened by extension. The last important thing we shared was that our periods came around the same time. She had taken out a book from I-don’t-know-where that explained everything. It had drawings of a man and a woman without clothes on. We read it. That was the first time we touched like that. We checked to see if we had hair. We were alone in her house. That afternoon, my mom came to get me. She yelled at my Aunt Nena about something I didn’t understand, and we never went back.
At first, I kept going to my cousin’s birthdays. I’d go by myself on the bus because my mom didn’t even want to go near Aunt Nena’s house. I’d call her on the phone too, or we’d send each other letters in the mail. The distance grew little by little. Important things happened to me and I didn’t tell her about them. I had a boyfriend, I got involved with his friend, I kept repeating classes, they hospitalized my little brother, I went to night school for senior year. Maybe she found out anyway, because those kinds of screw-ups get around in families. I heard that she won a literary contest, that her parents separated, that she had a cast on one leg, that she left the scouts because a leader touched her. I also found out when she got into the University of Chile to study journalism. She was the oldest cousin and the news spread fast. My uncles were proud that Nena’s daughter had gotten into their university. My grandfather boasted that there would finally be a true intellectual in the family. He imagined her as a reporter at the Supreme Court or something.
I graduated after senior year and started university prep classes. I worked at a candy shop to pay for it. People cheered me on, as if I’d lost an arm and, with hard work, could recover. As if my disability was being too stupid. I didn’t tell anyone and paid my high school math and language teachers to tutor me. The only thing I wanted was to get into the University of Chile, I didn’t care which major. I wanted to prove I could do it. And I did: I got in to study philosophy. At twenty, I was the oldest student. I had to read a ton. I didn’t like it, but I resolved not to drop classes and to finish however I could.
I knew my cousin and I were on the same campus. Sometimes I wanted to run into her. Other times, I was terrified just thinking about it. One Friday, we were drinking out in the grass, and I saw her pass by. She was gorgeous. Shiny black hair down to her waist; her smooth, dark face; a hippie outfit that showed her midriff. I talked to her, and we hugged each other tight. Our chests touched like when we were kids. She invited me to hang out with her group, and I followed her. We smoked weed and told people about the dumb stuff we did when we were ten: The time we choreographed a whole Michael Jackson routine for her dad’s birthday. The year we sold copies of Sailor Moon books in catechism. The summer we founded an ecology club that cut down live trees to preserve their branches for future generations. I watched her laugh, her teeth, the knowing look in her eyes, like when you go to a club and look at a guy who looks back at you and you know and he knows that you’re looking at each other and why.
After that night, it was as if we were chasing each other. I ran into her a lot. In the humanities library, in the dining hall, on the quad. It was always the same. We talked about when we were kids and a little about the university. We didn’t talk about our moms or our soccer fan uncles or our grandfather’s illness at the time. As if our family was only what happened until the day Aunt Nena yelled at my mom, a breakup that marked a before and an after, as irreversible as the birth of Christ or the invention of writing.
The second semester, we happened to take the same seminar. It was eight classes and I saw her in the first one. She was sitting with a tall, blonde guy who had his arm around her. I sat next to her, because I didn’t know anyone else and to mark my territory, like a dog. Like Pandora, who growled at the people who passed my house. The seminar was about Latin America. Each week an expert on a different country would come and talk. The best part was that after the last class we were going to Bolivia. The coordinating professor wanted the experience to be practical. We were going to confirm that the Bolivians were real people and not details from a book or a deranged mass that allied with Peru in 1800 to force its most unpleasant neighbor into submission.