Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis (2019) follows the lives of five Uruguayan women as they navigate their relationships and queer identities in a time of hiding and oppression. The story highlights queer love, friendship, and the frequent overlap between the two. It is an engaging and dynamic novel and I absolutely recommend it.
The story begins in the late 1970s during the Uruguayan coup and subsequent dictatorship, when five women find themselves newly acquainted with each other on a remote beach. They all share one commonality: the fact that they are cantoras, or women who sing (read: women who are queer).
Each character is distinct in their background and contributions to the group. Initially, the women are brought together through the extroversion and charm of Flaca, a young, butch queer who works at a butcher shop. Her friend and ex-lover, Romina, is an activist and university student whose personal experiences with the dictatorship fuel her passion for liberation. La Venus is a housewife new to queerness. Paz is a 15-year-old looking for community and guidance. Malena is a compassionate but reserved, secretive woman.
At Flaca’s insistence and enthusiasm, they all travel to a remote beach in coastal Uruguay, away from their repressive home city of Montevideo. The women come across a half-built shack that lacks electricity or running water, but nonetheless make it their home—their point of freedom.
Life in the coming years keeps some of the group together and disperses others, but the five women find their way back to each other over the next three decades—both in the city and on the coast—to communally purchase and finish building their remote home. I devoured this story with a sly smile on my face. The characters read as individuals that could easily belong in the reader’s real life as close friends and lovers. De Robertis has a distinct voice and crafts the third-person narrative to move fluidly between different vantage points. The convergence of internal voices and seamless transitions contribute to masterful storytelling. The setting and historical context give the reader easy handholds to glide through the story. Sensual descriptions of looking, longing, and acting on their desires make this book incredibly sexy.
I absolutely recommend this book. It is one that I offer up to any friend who is looking for their next sapphic read.