Why don’t you leave me the hell alone and die. Just die, my love.
Die, My Love by Ariana Harwitz, translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff, is a raw and powerful account of a woman, who has recently given birth to her second child, and is struggling with destructive urges and a yearning to break free from society’s expectations and the anxiety of motherhood.
Mummy was happy before the baby came. Now Mummy gets up each day wanting to run away from the baby while he just cries harder and harder.
The intensity of the narrative immediately brought to mind Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, another short and suspenseful Argentinian novel that was nominated for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. Die, My Love is a very atmospheric, at some points disorienting, and even uncomfortable read. I got the sense that this is probably a semi-autobiographical story, and if so, I applaud the author’s honesty.
The narrative voice is incredibly strong and effective in portraying the protagonist’s emotional turmoil of being stuck in this life that has become almost alien to her. She feels as if she’s losing her identity to the roles that she is supposed to perform, and it makes her deeply sad and angry at the same time. I found her to be a very fascinating, fully developed character. The author does not shy away from revealing the sharp edges of her personality that may make her seem somewhat abrasive and unlikeable.
Her desire to escape also manifests in a strong connection to nature and animals. She is attracted to the wildness of the woods and the river near her house, where she seems to find some solace from the incessant stream of her thoughts and the feeling of isolation.
I dodge the nettles and walk down to the woods. At one point a stag appears and shoots me a hard, animal stare. No one’s ever looked at me like that before. I’d put my arms around him if I could.
These passages create an image of a woman, who feels like a confined animal that is yearning to break free from the mundanity of everyday family life and her role as a mother. At the same time, we see that she cares deeply for her son and hopes to raise him as a free and worldly individual that could escape society’s expectations and the clutches of mediocrity.
Me, a woman who didn’t want to register her son. Who wanted a son with no record, no identity. A stateless son, with no date of birth or last name or social status. A wandering son. A son born not in a delivery room but in the darkest corner of the woods. A son who’s not silenced with dummies but rocked to sleep by animal cries. What saves me tonight, and every other night, has nothing to do with my husband’s love or my son’s. What saves me is the stag’s golden eye, still staring at me.
This relatively short novel is a powerful and nuanced examination of motherhood, womanhood, freedom, identity and desire. I’m definitely hoping that Die, My Love will make it onto the 2018 MBIP shortlist, it’s the kind of book that stays with you for a long time and that deserves to be read more than once. Also, I look forward to reading more from the catalogue of Charco Press, who aims to bring more attention to contemporary Latin American literature.