Writing what can't be named: sexual abuse from the literary perspective

I have recently read three novels -two of them are works of autofiction- whose central theme is the sexual abuse of minors. In all three, the abuser was an adult male and the abused was a child or adolescent.

Before I go any further, I warn that I was not looking for books dealing with this subject, but they came to me by chance; in fact, if you only read their titles it is very difficult to know what they are about. This leads me to think that, unfortunately, sexual abuse against minors is a crime that occurs, almost always with impunity, all over the world, but that more women, sometimes until they reach adulthood and fully understand what happened to them, are reporting it. And that, always, is a good thing, because seeking justice is the first step toward healing.

I will write about each of them as they come to me: the first one is called Why you came back every summer (2018, Lumen; 2022, Palindrome), and in it its author, Argentinean Belén López Peiró (Buenos Aires, 1992) recounts those terrible summer vacations in which, from the age of 13 to 17, her uncle-in-law abused her when she was visiting, as well as the legal fight she had to undertake to prove that, although he only penetrated her with his fingers, what her uncle -who by the way was a policeman- was doing was raping her. It is a text in which the author changes narrative voice (sometimes in the first person, sometimes using different narrators who tell their own version of the facts) and also uses transcriptions of the witnesses' testimonies in the judicial file to weave the plot of the crime that marked her adolescence and her relationships with men for some time.

Why you came back every summer. Belén López Peiró

In the second novel, The girl on the ice floe (Anagrama, 2021), French actress and writer Adélaïde Bon (Paris, 1981) tells how for years she abused her body with beatings, painful masturbation, alcohol and drug use until she was able to unblock from her unconscious the sexual abuse she suffered as a seven-year-old girl by an unknown adult. The stairs of the building in an upper-class neighborhood in Paris where she lived with her family were the scene of the abuse in which, a middle-aged Italian immigrant who posed as the one who was going to fix her neighbor's bicycle, forced her to perform oral sex on him and inserted his fingers into her vagina. Bon tells how the trial against this man, when the girls who, like her, were his victims, were already adult women, helped her to heal and stop punishing her body.

The girl from the ice floe. Adélaïde Bon

Finally, I got my hands on The summer of the snake (Alfaguara, 2022), the only one of the three novels I will discuss in this space that is not autofiction, but pure and simple literary fiction, even with some fantasy, but which is no less shocking or treats the issue of sexual abuse with less seriousness. The author, the narrator, essayist, poet and academic Cecilia Eudave (Guadalajara, 1953), uses both the images of the snake and of a female ghost to tell the story of a summer in 1977, when a little girl, Ana, was abused by a neighbor, who asked her to caress his penis while making her believe that it was a boa that was "rising" because she was happy with his caresses, and that the "white venom" it released would not hurt her.

The summer of the snake. Cecilia Eudave

When a minor suffers sexual abuse, he/she needs a lot of therapy, care and attention to try to heal, as much as possible, the wound that such an event leaves in the body, in the self-esteem, in the psyche and therefore in the way he/she relates to others. As I wrote at the beginning of this text, I am glad that more and more women are denouncing. And that literature, as a timely reflection of what is happening in every age with humanity, is leaving a record of it.

If you want to read more texts by Irma Gallo visit: Irma's notebook

You may be interested in: Latin American literature to come in 2022


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