Hometown: Oakland, Calif.
Book: The Invisible Mountain
For Fans Of: Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, Roberto Bolaño, Homer
The name of Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, literally means “I see a mountain” in Spanish. The moniker was given by one of the first European sailors to lay eyes on the verdant land. But it’s really little more than “a mountain the shape of a huge fried egg,” Carolina De Robertis writes in her stunning debut novel, The Invisible Mountain, named for the obscured landform.
The book emerged from eight years of intense research and writing, and while it’s a work of fiction, it’s based partially on stories of the author’s family. When De Robertis was 12, her father began inundating her with tales of her ancestors in Uruguay because she reminded him of his mother, a poet the family considered crazy. De Robertis carried those stories around “like radioactive seeds,” she says, until as an adult she began countless journeys back to the campos and cities where her own tale began. The Invisible Mountain tells the story of several generations of women, beginning with Pajarita, who disappears as a baby and reappears as a New Year’s miracle, perched in the branches of a tree. Pajarita was based on De Robertis’s maternal great-grandmother, who grew up in rural Uruguay and, as a teenager, ran away with an Italian circus performer.
Though she admits her debut “pushes the edges of reality,” a debt she says she owes to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, De Robertis eschews the label of magical realism for its over-application to Latin American writers. “I see [it] as part of a much larger international reality that belongs to world literature,” she says, “and that really goes back all the way to Homer’s Odyssey, in which the Gods are interrupting battles to give advice and make people fly in and out of war zones.” These roots are evident in The Invisible Mountain, which has the body of an epic and the soul of a sassy, sexy storyteller.