If An Orphan World, Giuseppe Caputo’s first novel, was the story of painstaking, desperate, intense love between a father and a son, Estrella Madre, his second novel, seems to be its natural continuation, completing a kind of two-faced story.
In this case, attention shifts to the relationship between a mother and a son in which both, inhabitants of an unnamed city, survive in the midst of overwhelming precariousness, sheltered under the loving umbrella of friends and neighbors.
So far I would understand that for the readers of An Orphan World it will be difficult to avoid the parallel between one story and the other, and that is why I wrote ‘it seems’ above, because Caputo’s narrative wisdom forces us to tense our understanding and avoid lazy readings Despite the obvious coincidences, Estrella Madre is a unique, strange, uncomfortable, tender novel.
Structured in 63 short chapters of variable intensity, with Saerian detours and a minute detail in the light, the novel stages the day-to-day life of the child – whom we accompany in his metamorphoses from child to adolescent, from moon to man, from mirror to sacrificial body – waiting for the call from his mother, who left town without a return date.
The son never stops waiting: like a contemporary Penelope, he awaits the return of his sun, of his mother star. In that gesture, life seems to be suspended: that life unfolds in the Lomas del Paraíso building, an eccentric home where the protagonist lives: almost nothing works, fragility is the norm and the days when hunger does not rage feel like an endless holiday .
That is when the fable, the tradition of the popular tale and the emotional sentimental Latin American enter the scene with characters such as Luz Bella, neighbor and friend, who lives the wait in her own way: day by day she waits for the new chapter of a telenovela, and when does not do it is an unconditional friend, surrogate mother, shutter of sadness.
There are other expectations that orbit around the child: Mother, pregnant for years, awaits the moment of delivery; Prospero, the building’s doorman, waits month after month for his rent to be paid, while working his antagonism as a form of self-care.
Finally, in front of the building, an endless work is built –another one waits–, where the workers remake over and over again what was built, displaying a childish clumsiness that at night changes –not without rarity– to a meek eroticism
In Caputo’s poetics, slowness, detouring and repetition are never gratuitous: we always find unexpected connections, twists and turns and recognitions that are chained to these daydreams and transform them into something else.
In his style, the plausible – that interwar pact between talent and need – demands a new heart, which pumps to the rhythm of his inventiveness and not his hackneyed definition.
Because even though Estrella Madre is a novel, at the same time it reads like a handful of poetic prints that in turn tell us the story of a princess (the son) waiting for her prince (the mother).
In this way Caputo interrupts the sequence of the children’s story and fills it with accounts payable, bureaucratic procedures, third world dissatisfactions, without neglecting his comic, dreamlike streak of passionate fantasy.