‘La Ciudad De Los Paraguas Rotos,’ a Latina’s Novel About the Courage of Being Yourself

La Ciudad de los Paraguas Rotos BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Twitter @yamilyhabib

In 1890, Oscar Wilde published what I think is one of the highest literary works ever written in the English language: “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” In its second chapter, Lord Henry talks with Dorian –a handsome and angelic-like young man– and tells him one of the biggest and hardest truths we need to understand: there is nothing more important or more terrifying than seeing your reflection and knowing yourself. 

Yamily Habib El Fakih’s book “La Ciudad de los Paraguas Rotos” is an autofiction novel that depicts the courage of a woman undertaking the hellish task of knowing herself and learning how to live by her own rules, regardless of what the outer world might think. 

Throughout “La Ciudad de los Paraguas Rotos,” we follow the main character – whose name we never learn – during her work-hours making mojitos in a Venezuelan bar in Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood while being inserted into her flashbacks to her childhood and teenagehood in Venezuela.

The back and forth between the late afternoons and nights at the bar and her first years opens a window into her mind and desires: the desire of being loved – mostly by other women but also (an open secret in the book) by herself –, the desire of being free, the desire of being independent, and having economic stability.

These desires, those of any person, become more complex as we continue in the deep-dive into her psyche, and we begin to learn all the circumstances that make it harder to take a leap of faith in accepting who she is. This Venezuelan character is the daughter of an intercultural family – an abandoning father of Greek descent and a mother of Syrian and Venezuelan origin–; a lesbian who becomes a drug addict because, in substance abuse, she finds the elusive rush of endorphins that longs to find in love. 

During the struggle to find herself, she becomes an illegal immigrant and a frustrated Don Juan. To this explosive mixture, you need to add the character’s difficulty to accept her body and the decline of Venezuela that leads to one of the biggest exiles Latin America has seen.  

The nuances of this complex plot can only be told in a narrative tone and a rhythm that is like a volcanic eruption — a river of burning words that can’t and won’t stop until it gets to its destiny. In the meantime, it will tear down everything it must because no price is higher than that of living against your nature. As Wilde would put it, no price is higher than being no more than “the echo of someone else’s music.” 

Habib’s novel is a necessary addition to the group of female voices we have in Latin American literature not just because it is a well-written book – written and rewritten as many times as necessary until a small diamond appeared under the pressure of hard work –, but because it brings perspectives that are –yet– not so frequent in Latinx literature. Particularly, that of lesbians –or this lesbian, at least– and the way their sexuality dialogues in constant tension with heterosexual men: feeling attracted to the same women, understanding –through knowledge or intuition– the psychological wounds that can be tapped to bring someone closer and to be in conflict for causing a pain they don’t want to inflict; a pain they have suffered too, and have seen in other women they love. 

As it happens with volcanic soil where new life constantly sprouts, this novel is a fertile ground for compassion and gathering the courage to look at the mirror and follow your heart.  

This is Yamily Habib’s first novel, and the wait for her next book will be worth it, as “La Ciudad de los Paraguas Rotos” has shown us that we are in the face of a potent and resourceful narrator that has gone through the work of seeing her reflection and is not afraid to tell her truths. 

Meanwhile, for all of us, readers, it is time to listen to the novel’s epigraph, a quote from William Carlos Williams: “Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell.” 

“La ciudad de los paraguas rotos” is available in Amazon.

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