‘The Body Where I Was Born’ by Guadalupe Nettel

Cover00Jane Yong Kim at Bookforum:

“I was born with a white beauty mark, or what others call a birthmark, covering the cornea of my right eye,” an unnamed female narrator states at the outset of Guadalupe Nettel’s autobiographical novel, The Body Where I Was Born. The spot, she describes, “stretched across my iris and over the pupil through which light must pass to reach the back of the brain.” And so, “in the same way an unventilated tunnel slowly fills with mold, the pupillary blockage led to the growth of a cataract.”

Thus begins a remarkable exploration into sight and the perceptions of childhood. Nettel, a talented Mexican writer who has been named one of the Bogota 39—one of the most promising young Latin-American writers under the age of thirty-nine—has called the novel’s narrator “I, myself.”

From the vantage of adulthood, on a psychoanalyst’s couch, she peers into her past, relitigating the bounds of normativity, the expectations of family, and the limits of medical science. She recounts how doctors, unable to repair the cataract, prescribed a torturous treatment that her parents took up with a passion, which involved subjecting her “to a series of annoying exercises to develop, as much as possible, the defective eye.” To strengthen it, a patch—a piece of flesh-colored cloth with sticky, adhesive edges—was placed over her other eye, making the world a mess of sounds and smells. Wearing the patch, she had to insert her head daily into a small black box with moving images of animals, a process she describes as agonizing.

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