cover image Slum Virgin

Slum Virgin

Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, trans. from the Spanish by Frances Riddle. Charco, $15.95 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-9997227-0-8

Cámara’s stunning tour de force (after the Booker International–shortlisted The Adventures of China Iron) follows Cleo, a trans ex-prostitute, known as the “transvestite saint” for her visions of Virgin Mary, through accounts from Quity, a down-and-out journalist hoping for redemption. Cleo’s visions expose the motivations of the rich, poor, police, media, thieves, and gangs in the brutal Argentinian slum of El Poso, where she lives. After Quity, a depressive atheist, meets Cleo, she receives a grant to write Cleo’s life story, and immerses herself in El Poso’s hardscrabble world. While driving through town high on cocaine, Quity discovers a young woman who’s just been tortured by local mobster The Beast, “a human flame running a kind of epileptic race,” and puts the woman out of her misery with her .38. The Beast’s later murder creates a power vacuum filled by politically connected El Jefe, who is set on selling the slum for development, minus its inhabitants. Meanwhile, Quity and Cleo become lovers, the Virgin inspires Cleo to write a cumbia opera, and the two plot their escape from El Poso. With humor and a frenetic pace, the propulsive narrative is roiled with fabulism, faith, existentialism, and concern for the rights of the impoverished, all tinged with bittersweet and poetic turns of phrase. Cámara’s breakout tale is mind-blowingly good. (June)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly noted that this book had been longlisted for the Booker International award.