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Booker International Longlist 2020: The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

China Iron

Book 11 and once again it’s over to Tracy for reviews and ratings.

Details from the Booker Website: 1872. The pampas of Argentina. China is a young woman eking out an existence in a remote gaucho encampment. After her no-good husband is conscripted into the army, China bolts
for freedom, setting off on a wagon journey through the pampas in the company of her new-found friend Liz, a settler from Scotland. While Liz provides China with a sentimental education and schools her in the nefarious ways of the British Empire, their eyes are opened to the wonders of Argentina’s richly diverse flora and fauna, cultures and languages, as well as to the ruthless violence involved in nation-building.
This subversive retelling of Argentina’s foundational gaucho epic, Martín Fierro, is a celebration of the colour and movement of the living world, the open road, love and sex, and the dream of lasting freedom. With humour and sophistication, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara has created a joyful, hallucinatory novel that is also an incisive critique of national origin myths and of the casualties of ruthless progress.

Gabriela Cabezón Cámara was born in Buenos Aires in 1968. Her debut novel La virgen cabeza (Slum Virgin, Charco Press, 2017) was followed by La Isla de la Luna (2012) (Island of the Moon), and Romance de la Negra Rubia (2014) (Romance of the Black Blonde) as well as two collections of short stories: Sacrificios (2015) (Sacrifices) and Y su despojo fue una muchedumbre (2015) (Her Waste Became a Crowd). In 2011 she published the novella Le viste la cara a Dios (You’ve Seen God’s Face), later republished as a graphic novel, which won the Argentine Senate’s Alfredo Palacios Prize. It was recognised by Buenos Aires City Council and the Congress of Buenos Aires Province for its social and cultural significance and its vital contribution in the fight against human trafficking. In 2013 she was writer-in-residence at UC Berkeley. Cabezón Cámara is one of the leading figures in Argentinian and Latin American literature and one of the most prominent feminist intellectuals of the region. She lives in Buenos Aires.


Fiona Mackintosh is a Senior Lecturer in Latin American Literature at the University of Edinburgh with research interests in gender studies, comparative literature and literary translation. Fiona specialises in Argentinian fiction and poetry and has published extensively on Alejandra Pizarnik and Silvina Ocampo in particular, as well as on contemporary authors. She has translated Luisa Valenzuela’s ‘The Other Book’ for Bomb magazine and selected poems by Esteban Peicovich for In Other Words. She is currently writing a book on the novels of Claudia Piñeiro.

Iona Macintyre is a Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Iona’s teaching and research has focused on nineteenth-century Spanish American history and culture. Within this area she works primarily on Argentina, history of the book, translation studies, gender studies and transatlantic relations. She has also published on the contemporary fiction of Jorge Accame.

Tracy’s Thoughts: This book, set in 19th Century Argentina, at the time of the legendary gaucho Martin Fierro, is the story of Fierro’s wife, Josephina, who changes her name to China Iron, and runs away with a Scotch woman traveling to meet her husband.

This is a story with queer characters, and some graphic romantic descriptions that didn’t add much to the story. They didn’t detract from it, either. This isn’t a new idea for historical fiction, but is a new take on the Fierro story. Characters were ok- a bit flat if not main characters, and the plot was linear.

Overall, I liked this, but probably won’t remember much about it later. It was just, eh.

Writing: 2.5/5
Originality: 3/5
Characters: 2/4
Plot: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 10.5/20

Tyll 19/20
The Eighth Life 18.5
Memory Police 15.5
Faces on the Tip of my Tongue 14.17
Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree 14
Mac and his Problem 12.5
The Other Name Septology 11.33
The Discomfort of Evening 11
The Adventures of China Iron 10.5
Hurricane Season 9.75
Serotonin 8.375

Have your read this one? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Came back to reread your review having just finished this because I absolutely loved it, maybe I was just in the mood for it, I certainly had no expectations and had had it on the shelf for 6 months or so before reading, so was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and found it very funny as well.

    I also love books that reference other texts that are interesting and expand my cultural knowledge, and this one referenced a book I had just downloaded a week before, W.H. Hudson’s Far Away and Long Ago. (It was recommended to me after I wrote a post about my Top 5 Nature-Inspired Reads) I began to read it at the same time so noted the connections right away in the chapter titles and the attention given to the sensory detail of nature. So pleased to see it on the shortlist!


    April 6, 2020

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