Essayist Jazmina Barrera’s Linea Nigra (Two Lines, May), which takes its title from the so-called pregnancy line that runs down the middle of the abdomen, is a narrative memoir punctuated by reflections on literary and artistic considerations of the maternal body and child-rearing. “This is a book about writing—writing during pregnancy, writing during motherhood,” says Barrera, who includes a bibliography of poems, short stories, interviews, and essays she read while breastfeeding. “It’s also about visual representations of motherhood, especially related to my mother, who’s a painter.”
Barrera spoke with PW about work in translation—the book was first published in Spanish in the author’s native Mexico—and finding comfort in literature.
What compelled you to write this memoir?
When I got pregnant, I started writing a journal. It was very personal writing that I didn’t plan to share. I also started looking for references, particularly about the process of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding in literature and visual arts. I was writing about my own experience, but also compiling. I found motherhood in [the work of] so many Mexican writers and also English-speaking writers—Mary Shelly, Shirley Jackson. It was very exciting to make these small discoveries. It’s a universal topic as much as death, as much as illness, as much as love. I think feminism has made the space for it to be talked about even more.
Then life itself started to change the text. There was an earthquake in Mexico and my mother got sick with cancer. There came a point when I realized that what had helped me so much during that very difficult time was literature, that I had found comfort in dialogue with other women’s voices. I realized that maybe my book could keep another woman company.
How is it to see your work in translation?
Christina [MacSweeney] is a good friend and we have had a correspondence from a few years back. The process of translating this book was part of that conversation. She sent me her questions and we answered our doubts together. She found solutions for when things were difficult to translate, because Christina is not only a wonderful translator, she’s also a wonderful writer. This book has been improved by her translation. It’s an exciting experience because my work feels new in her words, yet familiar.
Was this a difficult book to write?
The challenges came with the physical state of pregnancy and the first months of early motherhood—just the fact of having the time to write and finding the energy to do it. Many [authors of] books on motherhood have faced that challenge by writing very fragmentary books. I liked that my form resembles so many other books on motherhood. There are many wonderful writers that write in this formless hybrid genre, mutant books which are like the mutant stage of pregnancy. It felt like being a part of a tradition.
Did you accomplish what you set out to do?
Writing is a way of thinking, a way of deepening issues I find interesting. There are so many mysteries in motherhood. The transformations of the body and the fact that a cell becomes a human being inside you—all of the implications of that are something that I explore with writing. The uncanniness of the situation was something that didn’t resolve, but with writing, it acquired a new dimension.