Monday, April 07, 2008

the artist inside

Michelangelo famously stated that his statues were already present in the marble a priori, and the hand of the sculptor did nothing but to liberate them. Although the author doesn’t mention it directly, this may well have been the inspiration behind “El cristo feo” by Alicia Yanez Cossio (Quito, 1929). All the main figures in this novel, namely a statue and three living persons, get re-sculpted in different ways.

This is the story of the poor maid Ordalisa who works for a zombie-esque elderly couple. She has inherited an excruciatingly ugly crucifix from her mother, which one day starts talking to her. It (or Christ, or whoever is talking, it might just be within her head!) has a refreshingly unorthodox take on christian values, reminiscent of the 1970s cult hit “Mr God this is Anna”. Thus, even if the story is superficially about a crucifix, it’s never preachy.

Instructed by the Voice (who is and isn’t inside the crucifix, as s/he is and isn’t everywhere), Ordalisa starts chiselling out a beautiful (and movable) christ from inside the ugly crucifix. In doing this, she also liberates the artist within herself, and a living person within one of her employers (although the other gets resculpted in a less commendable way).

Told laconically with a minimal cast and setting, this enchanting story would work just as well as a chamber piece for a small theatre. Michelangelo would have loved it, as will anybody who has a bit of an artist hidden somewhere underneath their marble surface.

PS the only one of her books that found some attention in the English speaking world seems to be the pot-bellied virgin, which is reviewed here:

http://www.msmagazine.com/summer2006/bookreviews.asp

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