Cristina Feijóo.  Afuera. Madrid: Editorial Punto y Aparte, 2008, 155 pp. ISBN: 978-84-936748-1-6


As the title of Cristina Feijóo’s most recent work succinctly implies, Afuera (First Finalist for the prestigious Certamen Narrativa Universal Award in 2008) offers an introspective and sobering reflection on a multiplicity of exile experiences. Nine closely interwoven short stories chronicle various states of alienation that result when one perceives oneself as an outsider. The tales, all but the last of which are recounted through first person narrative voices, feature a remarkable mixture of displaced Argentineans who share at least one commonality: they have each, for reasons that are not made explicit, taken up residence in Sweden. Directly linked through this intimate cast of interconnected characters, the stories collectively convey themes of separation, isolation, loneliness and loss. This is not a text of intricate plot twists. Rather, the protagonists slowly live out their somewhat directionless and rather mundane daily lives; they focus on (often difficult) interpersonal relationships, employment concerns, day-to-day monetary issues, and ways to wile away the time. At the same time, in the face of perceived exclusion, the émigrés forge bonds of solidarity and interdependence, effectively creating a supportive, tight-knit community. Ultimately, a few come to embrace the foreign land as home.
Professor and literary critic Fernando Reati, himself a former leftist militant and political exile much like Feijóo, opens the volume with informative prefatory remarks that contextualize the fictional work. Reati outlines Argentina’s unstable political landscape up through the turbulent 1970s and 1980s that gave rise to the emigration of 200,000 citizens. An expert in the field, Reati then offers an overview of the many forms of memory work that continue to proliferate in repudiation of the country’s last dictatorship; literary responses receive special attention. The prologue concludes with a brief but insightful analysis of both the content and style of Afuera. Of particular benefit to the reader already familiar with these political and cultural contexts but perhaps not as well versed in the writings of Cristina Feijóo, is a detailed discussion of her most recent work within the framework of the author’s own impressively wide-ranging narrative production. Reati specifically cites militancy, political imprisonment, exile and trauma as common denominators in her literary trajectory, an oeuvre that he describes as “una literatura personal.” (12)

While I would not suggest that Afuera be read as an autobiographical text, it certainly bears mentioning that Cristina Feijóo, a former political prisoner, lived in exile in Sweden for many years before returning to Buenos Aires where she currently resides.  The fictional vignettes that comprise Afuera are set in an exotic—albeit a rather inhospitable—Stockholm, a place that, seemingly, could not be further removed from the protagonists’ native Argentina. As Reati notes, images of long, dark, cold winter nights (that, in a bewildering and further disorienting fashion, begin around four in the afternoon) abound. Even as the characters struggle to adapt to extreme differences in climate, they face even more overwhelming cultural challenges including linguistic barriers and economic disparity. What remains seemingly insurmountable, however, is the unremitting anxiety of simply not fitting in. Eddy, the principal unifying character, laments being seen as a (poor) foreigner (“mi identidad de extranjero pobre,” 45) or, what it is worse, to not be seen at all and thus become “el hombre invisible” or the invisible man (44). As a result of such alienation, numerous characters suffer from varying degrees of alcohol abuse and drug addiction. This allows for occasional dramatic interludes in what are otherwise rather static plots while simultaneously permitting stylistic experimentation.  

In fact, temporal dislocation accompanies geographic displacement and cultural differences. Time plays a significant role, both thematically and stylistically, throughout the narratives. The stories do not adhere to a strictly logical, linear or chronological order—neither as a collection (for example, the illness and death of a cat is mentioned in passing in an early tale, then directly narrated in a subsequent story only for the animal to casually reappear, alive and well, later in the book) nor within individual tales.  Numerous stories employ frequent shifts between the protagonists’ external realities and internal monologues, nostalgic flashbacks, and altered dream (or drug-induced) states. Characters often reminisce about “la otra vida,” that is, their other (pre-exile) life. In this way, Afuera establishes a sense of inertia together with an additional degree of absence in presence. 

Intermittent allusions to individual character’s traumatic pasts—time spent in prison, the violent appearance of military personnel into one’s private home—suggest that political circumstances have motivated the characters’ current situations of exile and illuminate their emotional states. In the prologue, Reati correctly observes that “las referencias al pasado y las razones por las que los personajes están en Suecia son mínimas, casi crípticas” (“references to the past and the reasons why the characters are in Sweden are minimal, almost cryptic,” 17). Nevertheless, despite the text’s trend toward temporal ambiguity and circumlocution of politics, the book references one specific date: a letter written July 30, 1982, unmistakably places narrative events during Argentina’s so-called dirty war. What is more, Feijóo’s measured incorporation of metafictional devices—such as this grief-stricken missive ostensibly addressed to the character’s mother who has just passed away or the frustrated attempts of another character to write fiction–result in overtly self-conscious musings on the unhappiness and loneliness of exile.

Afuera will be of particular interest to those who specialize in diaspora studies, post-dictatorship literary production, contemporary Argentine literature, or Latin American (women’s) narrative more generally. At the same time, this collection of intricately related short stories will appeal to anyone who appreciates a beautifully constructed, lyrical narration on themes of separation, alienation, loss and death.


Janis Breckenridge

Whitman College