MANUELA - Current Featured Review
By Lauren Walden Rabb
MANUELA Reads Like a Memoir.
Greg Kauffman’s novel, MANUELA, reads like a memoir. As such, Manuela Saenz is a woman who captivates from the first page. As she recounts the history of her life – from her beginnings as a bastard child and years in the convent school, through her disastrous marriage and then her love affair with both the revolution and Simon Bolivar – we see a woman always struggling to find her place in the world. As Kauffman recreates her, Manuela has a large heart that is frequently wounded, but also has a sharp tongue and instinct for survival that frequently wounds others. She is not a perfect person, but rather she is so real, and her emotions are so close to the surface, that by the end of the novel I felt I’d actually known her.
It is no small task for a male writer to create a fully fleshed-out female character, and Kauffman is to be commended for his abilities. The story of Manuela, who was for generations written out of South American history, is one that is surprising for its time. Yet, again to Kauffman’s credit, it seems not only completely believable, but Manuela’s discerning observations and the descriptions of her far-flung adventures make the past come alive in a way that few historical novels can achieve.
Comparisons to the life of Eva Peron are unavoidable, as both seemed driven by their roots to leave their mark on the world. Both had powerful lovers, and both had real influence on history. But Eva was, ironically, lucky enough to die during the height of her popularity, while Manuela, who was as often hated as admired by the populace, had to struggle on for many years after Bolivar’s death and the death of their dream of a unified South America. Her poignant, final years, when she faces poverty with dignity and grace, show that love, in the end, did transform her. No longer at war, both emotionally and literally, with the world, Manuela finds peace in accepting her life as it is. By sitting down to tell us her story, Kauffman’s imaginary Manuela creates the framework for this astonishingly real novel.
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