Corregidora by Gayl Jones (1975, Beacon Press) is a novel about passing on memories of abuse. Protagonist Ursa Corregidora represents the youngest generation of her family, comprised of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her great-grandmother was a slave to a man named Corregidora, who abused her himself and also forced her into prostitution. Ursa’s grandmother is the child of the two, and suffered from the same fate, which makes Ursas mother both the child and sister of her own mother. Ursa’a mother was herself also abused by the man, but Ursa is not his daughter. While the relation between the four generations might take a moment to be understood, the message is pretty clear: Make generations is the life advice they pass on to each other. Because no written documents exist about their fate, the memory of slavery has to be passed on verbally, or non-verbally even, in the form of feelings and intuitions.
Ursa herself doesn’t have memories of the times of slavery, all she has are the stories of her female relatives, and the ability to convey their fate with her voice when she sings at a local bar. After a fight with her husband, she not only loses her child, but also the ability to have children altogether.
Throughout the book, Ursa finds herself in a constant struggle between not being alone and not being abused, and lost in the perfidious game of desire. Apart from the parts where her female relatives tell their stories from life with/under Corregidora, the book almost entirely focuses on different men wanting to have sex with her.
Overall, my reading impression was very intense, the topic is heavy and it really doesn’t get any better at no part of the book. If it wasn’t for many explicit scenes and descriptions, however, this book sometimes reminded me of books you would have to read in school so as to get to know some of the darkest facets of history with a personal touch.
How did I come across the book?
It was a reference in Paul Stoller’s Sensual Scholarship, which I read earlier this year. The passages he chose were powerful and intriguing, just like the rest of the book.
When and where did I read it?
I have once again entered the rather strict division of fiction for the bus/train/before bedtime vs. non-fiction at work and/or during daytime. I am afraid, this way I am not doing justice to fiction most of the time, but find it easier with it, since a 15 minute bus-ride for me is clearly to short to follow an scientific argument on 20-30 pages.
… we’re all consequences of something, stained with another’s past as well as our own. (p. 45)