Tales from the Town of Widows: And Chronicles from the Land of Menby James Canon
One Sunday morning, a band of guerrillas comes to Mariquita and takes all the men away, leaving behind only the priest and a fair-skinned boy disguised as a little girl. Without men, the small Colombian mountain village becomes a sinking wasteland filled with women resigned to food shortages, littered streets, and mourning. But Rosalba viuda de Patiño, wife of
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One Sunday morning, a band of guerrillas comes to Mariquita and takes all the men away, leaving behind only the priest and a fair-skinned boy disguised as a little girl. Without men, the small Colombian mountain village becomes a sinking wasteland filled with women resigned to food shortages, littered streets, and mourning. But Rosalba viuda de Patiño, wife of the former police sergeant, envisions a different future for the town of widows. Declaring herself magistrate, she promises to instill law and order, and restore the failing economy and infrastructure—and proceeds to create a utopia far greater than any revolutionary's imagined ideal society.
Deft, rich, and darkly humorous, Tales from the Town of Widows marks the arrival of an unforgettable new literary talent.
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Tales from the Town of Widows
By James Canon
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 James Canon
All right reserved.
The Day the Men Disappeared
Mariquita, November 15, 1992
The day the men disappeared started as a typical Sunday morning in Mariquita: the roosters forgot to announce dawn, the sexton overslept, the church bell didn't summon the faithful to attend the early service, and (as on every Sunday for the past ten years) only one person showed up for six o'clock mass: Doña Victoria viuda de Morales, the Morales widow. The widow was accustomed to this routine, and so was el padre Rafael. The first few times it had been uncomfortable for both of them: the small priest almost invisible behind the pulpit, delivering his homily, the widow sitting alone in the first row, tall and buxom, quite still, her head covered with a black veil that dropped over her shoulders. Eventually they decided to ignore the ceremony and often sat together in a corner drinking coffee and gossiping. On the day the men disappeared, el padre Rafael complained to the widow about the severe decrease in the church's revenue, and they discussed ways to revive the tithe among the faithful. After their chat, they agreed to skip confession, but the widow received communion nonetheless. Then she said a few prayers before returning to her house.
Through the open window of her living room, the Morales widow heard the street vendors trying to interest early risers in their delicacies:"Morcillas!" "Empanadas!" "Chicharrones!" She closed the window, more bothered by the unpleasant smell of blood sausages and fried food than by the strident voices announcing them. She woke up her three daughters and her only son, then went back to the kitchen, where she whistled a hymn while she made breakfast for her family.
By eight in the morning most doors and windows in Mariquita were open. Men played tangos and boleros on old phonographs, or listened to the news on the radio. On the main street, the town's magistrate, Jacinto Jiménez, and the police sergeant, Napoleón Patiño, dragged a big round table and six folding chairs outside under a tall mango tree to play Parcheesi with a few selected neighbors. Ten minutes later, in the southwest corner of the plaza, Don Marco Tulio Cifuentes, the tallest man in Mariquita and owner of El Rincón de Gardel, the town's bar, carried out his last two drunk customers, one on each shoulder. He laid them on the ground, side by side, then closed his business and went home. At eight thirty, inside the Barbería Gómez, a small building across from Mariquita's municipal building, Don Vicente Gómez began to sharpen razors and sterilize combs and brushes with alcohol, while his wife, Francisca, cleaned the mirrors and windows with damp newspaper. In the meantime, two streets down at the marketplace, the police sergeant's wife, Rosalba Patiño, bargained with a red-faced farmer for half a dozen ears of corn, while older women under green awnings sold everything from calf's foot jelly to bootleg cassettes of Michael Jackson's Thriller. At eight thirty-five, in the open field in front of the Morales widow's house, the Restrepo brothers (all seven of them) began to warm up before their weekly soccer game while waiting for David Pérez, the butcher's grandson, who owned the only ball. Five minutes later, two old maids with long hair and slightly square bodies walked arm in arm around the plaza, cursing their spinsterhood and kicking aside the stray dogs that crossed their way. At eight fifty, three blocks down from the plaza, in the house with the green facade located in the middle of the block, Ángel Alberto Tamacá, the schoolteacher, tossed in bed sweating and dreaming of Amorosa, the woman he loved. At three minutes before nine, on the outskirts of Mariquita, inside La Casa de Emilia (the town's brothel), Doña Emilia (herself) passed from room to room. She woke up her last customers, warned them that they were going to be in serious trouble with their wives if they didn't leave that minute, and yelled at one of the girls for not keeping her room tidy.
Immediately after the ninth stroke of the church bell, while its echo was still resounding in the sexton's ears, three dozen men in worn-out greenish uniforms appeared from every corner of Mariquita shooting their rifles and shouting, "Viva la Revolución!" They walked slowly along the narrow streets, their sunburned faces painted black and their shirts sticking to their slender bodies with sweat. "We're the people's army," one of them declared through a megaphone. "We're fighting so that all Colombians can work and be paid according to their needs, but we can't do it without your support!" The streets had emptied; even the stray animals had fled when they heard the first shots. "Please," the man continued, "help us with anything you can spare."
Inside their house, the Morales widow, her three daughters and her son, were clearing the dining table. "Just what we needed," the widow grumbled. "Another damn guerrilla group. I'm so tired of these bands of godless beggars coming through here every year."
Her two younger daughters, Gardenia and Magnolia, rushed to the window hoping to catch a glimpse of the rebels, while the widow's only son, Julio César, clutched his mother fearfully. Orquidea, the oldest, looked at her two sisters and shook her head in disapproval.
Orquidea Morales had lost interest in men some five years before. She knew they didn't find her attractive, and at her age--thirty-one--she wasn't about to expose herself to rejection. She had pointy ears, a hook nose and a mouth too small for her big, crooked teeth. She also had three warts on her chin that looked like golden raisins. When Orquidea was born, these unpleasant protuberances had been on her cheeks, but as she grew up, they'd migrated down to her chin. She hoped the warts would keep moving and eventually settle in a less visible part of her body. Orquidea claimed to be a virgin, a statement that had been . . .
Excerpted from Tales from the Town of Widows by James Canon Copyright © 2007 by James Canon. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
James Cañón was born and raised in Colombia. He moved to New York to study English and later earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Cañón was awarded the 2001 Henfield Prize for Excellence in Fiction. He lives in New York.
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I must confess that this novel had been on my "to read" shelf for over a year until 3 weeks ago, when I decided to give it a chance. I absolutely loved it. It's a female empowering tale that's made real by the transparent and precise psychology of each character. It's funny and sad, lyrical and plain, and it delivers a strong message of equality that's even more powerful when you know it's coming from a South American male author writing in his second language. Highly recommended for those with an open mind and somewhat liberal views.
One of the ten best books I've read this year. A wonderful story that involves politics, sexuality, history and even sociology. Never heavy-handed actually, very funny and easy to digest. I'm amazed that a man can write from a woman's point of view with such sensitivity and sensibility. Canon ages his characters in a very realistic way, but with a degree of tenderness that's admirable. Tales from the town of widows is a triumph, one that I highly recommend to everyone who enjoys smart, witty writing.
After the men from a small Colombian village are taken away, the women must reinvent their world. The intriguing story draws on reality and the super natural. It's told from different perspectives of the women left in town. The lively and often humorous narrative is broken up with short, diary-like entries written by Men fighting the Colombian war. Canon tackles the issues of a feminine society while educating readers about the politics of his country. The ending is absolutely satisfying and, though one may not agree with everything Canon tells us, he always leaves room for us, readers, to draw our own conclusions. A wonderful, wonderful read!
I just finished reading Tales from the town of widows and felt compelled to share my thoughts with anyone out there: the novel is provocative and marvelously written. Canon's imagination simply has no limits. His characters are beautifully portrayed and developed. The arguably main character named Rosalba is destined to become a fiction icon. This is one of those books you'll want to re- read in a few months and then again
This debut novel has everything one can possibly want from a book: a fascinating plot, enlightenment, gender issues, religion, history, poetry, humor, debate. I love every page of it. I would agree that some sections are slow, but I only saw that as an advantage: it allowed me to savor every sentence. It's perfect for book groups. I recommend it highly to ANY AND EVERY WOMAN.
I am only halfway through this book, but had to read the customer reviews, which there were none. I am loving this book and find it hard to put down.