|Left: Seated, the writer Beatrice Bugané, her sister and myself, talking.|
Presentation of Beatrice Bugané’s The Cottage and its Lady
by Milagros Terán. Casa Thomas Jefferson, Lago Sul, Brasilia. April 3, 2014
Very few times in these literary events one has the pleasure of presenting someone we know. Most of the time you talk about the work, and you hardly know the person. So tonight it is really my privilege to talk a little bit about the Opera Prima of a 17 year old girl, The Cottage and its Lady. A work of fiction of 136 pages that takes place in North America, I would assume, since the story is set in the summer month of August, and it is written in English.
I was taken aback by the fact that this very first writer´s work is centered on and old woman. Beatrice didn´t choose to center the story in her own world, among teenagers and school, which is the norm for a writer this young because, you know, the first rule of a true writer, especially for your first work, is to write about what you know, but in this case we have a young woman writing about old age (although these days, 72 is hardly a time for decrepitude. We would hope that this will arrive after our 80’s if not later.)
This fact is what kept me going after the first six pages: I was curious to know how she was going to develop this story. At the very beginning she uses the verb To Deduce, and she aptly deduces what it is like to be old, and what it is like to have all of the time for one´s self at that age. The confidence to express feelings through the use of an internal monologue is what made me realize that this is a girl who is an avid reader, who knows her subject matter and develops it with a flow so natural and free, that -my friends- this takes confidence and courage. Through the story we learn of this old lady, her daily life and thoughts. But then, finally, on page 86 she gives us clues to this boldness, when she says:
“it reminds me vaguely of my fascination with a squirrel I once saw swiftly running along a tree trunk. I do not remember where I have seen it. Perhaps I never did, and I read it in a book instead”.
We get to know many things about the book, but we don´t know the name of the lady, we only know that she lives alone in a pale yellow cottage, with a nice porch, surrounded by sunflowers. We know that she has a very strict routine, something like the beloved children´s character Poppleton, who had library days, grocery shopping days, friends’ visits days, etc. We also know that the heroin in the story sometimes deliberately chooses not to see, and she manages just that by not putting her reading glasses on.
Another thing that blew me away is her ability for description. Five times in the story she mentions a very special painting. It is a painting that hangs in her living room. Page 25. Listen to this:
I still am not sure what it was meant to depict, in the eyes of its artist, but I have created a story for it myself. The painting is white and black, but I imagine the ocean that is its background to be clear as day and pure as boiled water. There is a man in the painting, but I cannot see his features, as only his back has been revealed to the viewer. His upper body is lined with chiseled muscle, but his arms are outstretched above his head. He wears shorts that I imagine to be soaked. The surface of his skin glitters beneath the sun. Resting upon the back of his neck, balanced between the nooks of both arms, is a swordfish. It is large and magnificent and dangerous and captured. I cannot see the man´s features, but I imagine them to be reflecting little more than triumph.
The painting always reminds me of one of my favorite readings, the Old Man and the Sea. It is one of the select few I am still able to remember well enough to claim as one of my most liked. But if I were given the opportunity to hang a more accurate illustration of this particular grand work of Hemingway upon my wall instead, I would not take it. It would depict a great story that has only grown on me over the years, but it would not be quite the same. The painting that I see now on the wall may be less accurate, but I believe it to hold truth. A stronger truth, if truths can be compared.
The story has a carefully knitted plot, suspense, and a punch line, it also covers a long internal monologue, that reminds me of the coming of age story of the Nicaraguan writer Rosario Aguilar, who at the age of 22, newlywed, published her very first novel about a girl who was a patient in a mental facility. A very bold subject matter too, very defiant, and scary, just like Beatrice´s. Rosario became a very successful and well known novelist, and has been translated to many languages. So as we celebrate this self-published novella, I really hope that she follows Rosario´s same road, and becomes a great novelist for us to cherish her work, but also to honor herself, her great country and her family.