AUTHOR: Teresa Moure
PUBLISHER: Hoja de Lata Editorial
READER’S NAME: Rose Vekony
DATE: 16 April 2017
Subversive Arts for Cultivating Gardens is the story of how five unconventional characters surreptitiously plant a spectacular flower garden in an abandoned mine in semirural Galicia, staging an ecological art intervention that draws on collective memory to protest industrial devastation. At the same time, it is a series of compelling personal narratives that unfold as the characters chronicle the gradual conception of their project, its realization, and its aftermath.
One of the central characters is nicknamed La Araña, “the Spider,” and the metaphor of an invisibly growing web of connections aptly reflects the novel’s masterful structure as well as its multiple meanings. Recounted in five first-person sections—each ostensibly written by one of the five participants to document their intervention, and each subdivided into twelve nonlinear parts—the story weaves various perspectives through time and space to form a rich, multilayered narrative in a seamless, transparent, and perfectly natural way.
The first section, “Impossible Loves,” is told by Leandro Balseiro, an idealistic, love- struck artist in his first year of college who lives with his doting single mother, the medical doctor Clara. Leandro’s narrative opens with his attempt to reconstruct the story of Clara’s late father, also named Leandro Balseiro, an eccentric from whom she was separated as a young child. The elder Leandro withdrew from society after being fired from his job and spent the rest of his days privately cultivating a lush, almost otherworldly garden of rare and richly fragrant flowers in his backyard. Through his informants’ colorful anecdotes the younger Leandro begins to piece together the story of his namesake—a story that in many ways generates the one in the present day, which the reader likewise pieces together from various accounts. Also introduced in this first section are the other four protagonist-“coauthors”: the above-mentioned Clara; her good friend Daniel Sampaio, a classical pianist who begins his life anew after an accident leaves him with amnesia; Candela Roma (“La Araña”), an art history teacher who seems to lead a double life; and Ingrid Meyer, a Viennese psychiatrist to whom all the characters allude long before her “intervention” in the story, at the moment when the art intervention itself takes shape.
Each of the subsequent sections—“The Seed of Dreams,” by Clara; “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” by Sampaio; “The Season of Madness,” by Ingrid; and “What Remains of the Dreams,” by Candela—fleshes out the stories of all five protagonists as well as that of the previous generation. The shifting perspectives and unexpected revelations produce a fascinating narrative that can be read on many levels: historical, cultural, environmental, social, political, and psychological.
Translated into Castilian Spanish by its author in 2014, Subversive Arts for Cultivating Gardens was originally published in Galician as The Intervention (2010). Galician identity is one of the themes of the book, which reflects on its roots in order to revive its heritage in contemporary Spain. This aspect may be lost if the book is published in the U.S., although readers with some knowledge of Galicia—the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and the region’s Celtic origins both figure in the story—may well grasp it. But since the novel explores identity through the lens of universal themes such as love and loss, nature and progress, and art and madness, its message easily transcends borders.
Teresa Moure is an acclaimed novelist, poet, playwright, and essayist writing in Galician, Spanish, and Portuguese. She teaches linguistics at the University of Santiago de Compostela and is active in Galician nationalist politics. Her work has won numerous prizes, with translations published in Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and Dutch. Subversive Arts for Cultivating Gardens would be her first work to appear in English.