Dark Bride: A Novelby Laura Restrepo
Once a month, the refinery workers of the Tropical Oil Company descend upon Tora, a city in the Colombian forest. They journey down from the mountains searching for earthly bliss and hoping to encounter Sayonara, the legendary Indian prostitute who rules their squalid paradise like a queen. Beautiful, exotic, and mysterious, Sayonara, the undisputed barrio angel,
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Once a month, the refinery workers of the Tropical Oil Company descend upon Tora, a city in the Colombian forest. They journey down from the mountains searching for earthly bliss and hoping to encounter Sayonara, the legendary Indian prostitute who rules their squalid paradise like a queen. Beautiful, exotic, and mysterious, Sayonara, the undisputed barrio angel, captivates whoever crosses her path. Then, one day, she violates the unwritten rules of her profession and falls in love with a man she can never have. Sayonara's unrequited passion has tragic consequences not only for her, but for all those whose lives ultimately depend on the Tropical Oil Company.
A slyly humorous yet poignant love story, The Dark Bride lovingly recreates the lusty, heartrending world of Colombian prostitutes and the men of the oil fields who are entranced by them. Full of wit and intelligence, tragedy and compassion, The Dark Bride is luminous and unforgettable.
The Dark Bride is a smart, lushly written, heartfelt glimpse into a largely vanished world that existed deep in the oil-rich jungles of South America. Colombian author Laura Restrepo has created a wonderfully appealing and colorful cast of characters: the prostitutes of Tora, a city in the Colombian forest, and the oilmen who descend upon the city once a month to take comfort in the women's arms. These honest yet wily individuals take turns narrating the story of Sayonara, a young puta who achieved near-mythic status as a result of her legendary beauty and haughty spirit.
The headstrong Sayonara rules the putas' fabled quarter, La Catunga, until she violates the unwritten rule of her profession and falls in love with one of her customers. Unable to have the man she loves, she settles for a man who claims to love her, ultimately coming to deplore the private degradation that belies the public respectability for which she once yearned.
In bringing to life the intelligence, suffering, and tenderness of the resourceful Colombian putas and the men who are held spellbound by their charms, Laura Restrepo has written a haunting novel of touching immediacy, challenging readers to reconsider conventional assumptions about morality, strength, kindness, and the true nature of happiness. (Fall 2002 Selection)
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"Dress nicely and brush your hair, I am going to take you to see the other world," Todos los Santos announced one day to Sayonara and her four sisters, Ana, Susana, Juana and little Chuza.
They put on their stiff organza dresses -- the ones reserved for national or religious holidays -- with frills and bibs and broad skirts puffed up with crinoline, like light-colored cotton clouds: baby chick yellow for Sayonara, cotton candy pink for Ana, sky blue for Susana, mint green for Juana and white like the snows of days gone by for little Chuza. They greased down their hair and splashed on perfume, brushed their teeth, put on their stockings and shoes, and started walking behind their madrina, dressed up in their Sunday best on a Tuesday and advancing through briars and underbrush that threatened to tear the organza and messed up their hairdos. In spite of everything, they proceeded carefully and elegantly like country people when they come into town for mass, because Todos los Santos had warned them that if they wanted to know the other world, they had to arrive with their dignity intact.
"So that no one dares to pity us," she said.
"This dress is scratchy, madrina," complained Susana.
"You'll just have to put up with it."
They reached a place away from the fence around the Troco by walking along a path that Todos los Santos knew. They went down a hill and crossed a stream after taking off their shoes to keep them from getting wet, then sat on the rocks to dry their feet, put on their shoes again, brushed their hair again and finally arrived.
"Well, there it is. That is the other world," announced Todos los Santos, in front of a place where the thick vines that clung to the length of the fence had fallen away, and where, due to some oversight in security, there were no armed guards to scare off curious or ill-intentioned people.
Piled one against the other and sheathed in their colorful organza dresses, like packages of bonbons, the five girls could see better than if they had a first-tier box, all five faces pressed against the stretch of wire fence to avoid the quadrangular frames, the five pairs of Asiatic eyes opened so wide and round that they lost their slant. From there they saw what their fantasies had not even attempted to imagine: the mythic and impenetrable Barrio Staff, where the Tropical Oil Company had installed and isolated the North American personnel who held positions of management, administration, and supervision, and which was a reduced-scale replica of the American Way of Life, as if a slice of a comfortable neighborhood in Fort Wayne, Indiana, or Phoenix, Arizona, had been removed and transplanted in the middle of the tropical jungle, with its gardens and swimming pools, its well-manicured lawns, its mailboxes like bird houses, the golf course, the tennis courts and three dozen white, spacious houses, all identical, completely imported, from the bedroom furniture to the first roof tile and the last screw. In the background and on the top of a hill, dominating the barrio, rose a house built of pinewood called Casa Loma, the residence of the general manager of the company, with its ample rooms, its vestibule, terraces, and garages.
For a long time the five girls looked mutely at everything, and since they didn't see anyone appear there inside the fence, they thought the other world was a bewitched and deserted place like Sleeping Beauty's castle. It seemed as if the inhabitants had left suddenly, without time to take any of their belongings with them. A solitary towel lay abandoned at the edge of a pool, the translucent water still agitated by an absent swimmer, an overturned tricycle as if the child who had been riding it had fallen and run to look for his mother, a lawn mower that was waiting for the man who had just gone inside for a glass of water. Objects that shined with a light of their own, still unused, as powerful as fetishes, possessed of a well-being not belonging to the people who use them but rather to the objects themselves.
"Doesn't anyone live here, madrina?" asked Sayonara in a voice lowered out of fear of shattering the mirage, but at that moment the lawnmower man came out of nowhere, started it up, and began working.
"What is that man doing, madrina?" asked Susana.
"He's cutting the grass."
"To give it to the animals?"
"No, he is cutting it because he likes it short."
"What a strange man…," said Ana. "And why do they have those poor people locked behind this fence?"
"We are the ones who are locked away, the ones on the outside, because they can leave, but they won't let us in."
"Why won't they let us in?"
"Because they are afraid of us."
"Why are they afraid of us?"
"Because we are poor and dark-skinned and we don't speak English."
"Look, madrina, the houses are like cages too," said Juana, "they can't come out through the door or the windows."
"Those are screens, so the mosquitoes don't get in."
"The mosquitoes can't get in? And the other animals can't get in either?"
"Can the dogs come out?"
"If the people open the door for them."
"What is that woman doing?" asked Ana when she saw the owner of the towel stretch out on a lawn chair to sun herself.
"She is going to lie in the sun."
"Lie in the sun? Then she must have cold blood. Machuca told me that lizards lie in the sun to get warm because they have cold blood."
"No. She wants to lie in the sun to make her skin darker."
"But why do they do that," said Sayonara, "if they don't like dark-skinned people?"
"You have to understand them," said Todos los Santos. "They weren't born here. They are North Americans."
"Why did they come here?"
"To take oil from the land."
"Why do they take it?"
"To sell it."
"Oh! Is it a good business to sell land without oil?"
"What are those two doing?" asked Ana pointing to a pair of women who were chatting at the door of a house.
"They are speaking English."
"Then how do they understand each other?"
"Because they know how to speak English. Inside there no one speaks Spanish."
"Someone should teach them…"
A group of children jumps into the pool to paddle around, a man starts washing his car, a woman picks up a hose and begins to wash her dog. Little Chuza, dazed, watched everything without missing a detail, but she didn't ask anything because little Chuza never opened her mouth.
"They wash dogs, they wash children, they wash cars…," said Juana. "What clean people! And where do they get so dirty, if there's no dirt in there?"
"There is no dirt because they clean it."
"But why do they clean it if there is no dirt…?"
"To keep busy and to kill time until they can return to their country."
"Look, madrina, they're barefoot. Don't they have shoes?"
"Yes, they do. They're barefoot because they like it -- they keep their shoes in their houses."
"So they don't get dirty?"
"What if their feet get dirty?"
"Then they wash them, like their dogs."
"But why do they wash their dogs?" asked Ana, who never in her life had seen anyone wash a dog.
"So he won't smell."
"Do their dogs smell very bad?"
"All dogs smell the same."
"I heard something," said Sayonara. "Señor Manrique told me. He said that the floors of some houses are covered with wool, like sheep."
"That really is strange!" shouted Susana. "That must be one of Sayonara's lies."
"It's true," confirmed Todos los Santos. "They are houses with rugs."
"What crazy people!"
"And what are those people doing over there, madrina?" inquired Juana, tugging on Todos los Santos's skirt.
"They are playing a game called tennis."
"But they're not children… Adults play too?"
"Yes" said Susana, showing off. "And the one who catches the ball in his hand wins."
"No, the one who throws it the furthest with the racket wins," corrected Todos los Santos. "The racket is that squashed basket they have in their hands."
"And inside there, in Barrio Staff," Ana wanted to know, "do people also die?"
"Yes, they do. Death is the only thing that strikes them whenever it wants."
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Meet the Author
Laura Restrepo is the bestselling author of six novels, including The Dark Bride, A Tale of the Dispossessed, and Delirio, which received Spain's prestigious Alfaguara Prize. She lives in Colombia.
Laura Restrepo fue profesora de literatura en la Universidad de Colombia, editora política en la revista Semana y miembro de la Comisión Nacional para la Paz. Ha escrito destacadas novelas tales como Leopardo al sol; Dulce Compañía, que obtuvo el premio Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz en México y el premio France Culture en Francia; y Delirio, que obtuvo el premio Alfaguara. Actualmente vive en Bogotá, Colombia.
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I picked this book up on the free table at a used curriculum sale. I now think that I know why it was there. I really did not look very closely at the book then, but when I got home I wanted to know more about the author, so I went to Barnes and Noble's website. They were falling all over themselves about how great it was that they were able to introduce this wonderful Colombian author to American audiences. If I had read the blurb on the back of the book, I probably would have left it alone. "Once a month, the refinery workers of the Topical Oil Company descend upon Tora, a city in the Colombian forest. They journey down from the mountains searching for earthly bliss and hoping to encounter Sayonara, the legendary Indian prostitute who rules their squalid paradise like a queen." Isabel Allende, who has written some pretty raunchy stuff herself, said, "Love, lust, despair, pride, violence, magic, and irrational hope give depth and texture to this page-turning novel." Well, under the wishful but mistaken thinking that perhaps Sayonara's being a prostitute was only incidental to the story, I began reading. I got through the first three pages and it was nothing but how the men came from the jungles to Tora for las mujeres, the women, who held the "greatest promise of earthly bliss;" how the economy of Tora depended on the oil money handed over to the putas (whores) and prostitutas; how that when the men came to "optimal marketplace for love" the women "who charged the most" depended on how exotic and distant their national origins were, how sonorous their names, and how unusual their customs. There may be some actual story later on, but I was not willing to wade through all that to find it. If you like reading books about "sex for hire," this is for you, but I seriously doubt that anyone who wants to follow Paul's instructions in Philippians 4:8 about thinking on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous, and praiseworthy would find anything worthwhile in this book.
I was in Iraq when I read this fabulous book, it had the power to take me out of that misery place and take me on a journey to "La Catunga". Like the workers on this book I fell in love with "La Flaca" and everything that surrounded her. I was real fortunate to have discovered such a great writer, without a doubt Laura Restrepo has become one of my favorites.
June 28, 2007: ** This was my Review in Spanish*** Me encontraba en AR Ramadi, Iraq cuando leia esta hermosa obra de Laura tuvo el poder de llevarme desde aquel infierno hasta 'La Catunga'. Me enamore de 'La Flaca' igual que los cu?eros. Es una fortuna haber leido este libro, Laura Restrepo se ha convertido sin duda una de mis favoritas!
A lyric and mysterious lovestory between a prostituta and oil worker. Eloquently written and tasteful reading. The development of the characters are strong and holds its strength throughout the book. Written within a biographical context; a writer investigating the story behind the famous prostituta in Tora named 'Sayonara.' One of the better books that I have read in a long time.