Colman Domingo
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The New Queer Canon: Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis

Cantoras

The story begins in the '70s; Uruguay is under a military dictatorship and has one of the largest populations of political prisoners per capita in the world. Torture is common, movement is restricted, and almost all communication from outside of Uruguay is monitored.

Despite that and seemingly against all odds, five women discover each other and a nearly uninhabited piece of the country, a cape named Cabo Polonio. It becomes their sanctuary, a place they can to return to throughout their lives to escape the oppressive regime and begin to explore their queer identities. The women are attracted (predominantly) to other women and the danger of their feelings is amplified in this place and time when a woman’s worth is intimately tied to that of her husband.

It's part of what makes this cape so special; for the first time, Flaca, Romina, Malena, Paz, and Anita a.k.a. “La Venus" don’t have to hide their desires. They can talk and love out in the open. During their first trip, Romina watches Flaca and Anita on the beach. 

"What she envied was their ease and freedom, the flow of their own lust. To come to a place where you do that, in broad daylight. Look at Flaca: loving a woman so openly, under the broad blue sky. The high of it. She watched it play across Flaca's face. She wondered whether she, Romina, would ever know what that felt like. To love so openly even for a minute of her life."

The freedom she's witnessing is followed by familiar doubts — if by chance she were to meet someone, and if by chance they were in a place where they could love each other so freely, would she be able to? Could she allow herself to love another woman back? Romina is dubious as much from how sex-same attraction is treated, as from her experience with sexual violence. It's something that is unconstrained a the time, and the narrative honors the full weight of its trauma.

The story spans 30 years of the women’s lives as they grow both separately and together, always in the shadow of Uruguay’s changing politics. Each of the Cantoras (women who “sing”) resist in their own ways: they do direct political work, create art, and open a bar called Little Stone, a name inspired by the events of Stonewall. It is the community they've built amongst each other that sustains these women.

With Cantoras — the year's most exciting addition to the queer canon — Carolina De Robertis offers a replacement for the many books burned during these dark times. It's an untold piece of LGBTQ world history, brought to light with a stirring message of hope and resilience. 

(RELATED: The Best Gay Novel of 2019 Depicts Gay Sex With a Masterful Touch)

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