Ferré, Rosario 1938-
FERRÉ, Rosario 1938-
PERSONAL: Born September 28, 1938, in Ponce, Puerto Rico; daughter of Luis A. (an engineer and former governor of Puerto Rico) and Lorenza Ramirez de Arellano de Ferré; married Benigno Trigo (a businessman), 1960 (divorced); married Jorge Aguilar Mora (a writer; marriage ended); married Agustin Costa (an architect); children: Rosario Trigo Costanzo, Benigno Trigo Ferré, Luis Trigo Ferré. Education: University of Puerto Rico, M.A.; University of Maryland, Ph.D., 1986. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Susan Bergholz, 17 West 10th St., New York, NY 10011.
CAREER: Writer. Advisory board member, Americas Literary Initiative series, University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.
AWARDS, HONORS: Critics Choice Award, 1995, and National Book Award nomination, 1996, both for The House on the Lagoon.
Papeles de Pandora (title means "Pandora's Roles"; stories), Joaquin Mortiz (Mexico City, Mexico), 1976, Vintage (New York, NY), 2000, translation by the author published as The Youngest Doll, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1991.
El Medio pollito: Siete cuentos infantiles (title means "The Half Chicken"; children's stories), Ediciones Huracan (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico), 1976.
La Muñeca menor/The Youngest Doll (bilingual edition), illustrations by Antonio Martorell, Ediciones Huracan (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico) 1980.
Sitio a Eros: Trece ensayos literarios, Joaquin Mortiz (Mexico City, Mexico), 1980, 2nd edition published as Sitio a Eros: Quince ensayos literarios, 1986.
Los Cuentos de Juan Bobo (title means "The Tales of Juan Bobo"; children's stories), Ediciones Huracan (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico) 1981.
La Mona que le pisaron la cola (title means "The Monkey Whose Tail Got Stepped On"; children's stories), Ediciones Huracan (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico) 1981.
Fábulas de la garza desangrada, Joaquin Mortiz (Mexico City, Mexico), 1982.
La C Lisa Rowe Fraustino, ed., aja de cristal, La Maquina de Escribir (Mexico), 1982.
Maldito amor (title means "Cursed Love"), Joaquin Mortiz (Mexico City, Mexico), 1986, revised and translated by Ferré and published as Sweet Diamond Dust (see also below), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1988.
El Acomodor: Una lectura fantástica de Felisberto Hernández, Fondo de Cultura Economica (Mexico), 1986.
Sonatinas, Ediciones Huracan (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico) 1989.
El Árbol y sus sombras, Fondo de Cultura Economica (Mexico), 1989.
El Coloquio de las perras, Cultural (San Juan, Puerto Rico), 1990, selections translated by the author and published as "On Destiny, Language, and Translation; or, Ophelia Adrift in the C & O Canal," in The Youngest Doll, 1991.
El Cucarachita Martina, Ediciones Huracan (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico), 1990.
Cortázar, Literal (Washington, DC), 1991.
Las Dos Venecias (title means "The Two Venices"), Joaquin Mortiz (Mexico City, Mexico), 1992.
Memorias de Ponce: Autobiografia de Luis A. Ferré, Editorial Norma (Barcelona, Spain), 1992.
La Batalla de las vírgenes, Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, (San Juan, Puerto Rico), 1993.
Antología personal: 1992-1976, Editorial Cultural, 1994.
The House on the Lagoon, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995, translated by the author as La Casa de la laguna, Vintage (New York, NY), 1997.
Sweet Diamond Dust and Other Stories, Plume (New York, NY), 1996.
El Sombrero magico (title means "The Magical Hat"), Santillana Publishing, 1997.
La Sapita sabia y otros cuentos (title means "The Smart Frog and Other Stories"), Santillana Publishing, 1997.
Pico Rico Mandorico y otros cuentos (title means "Pico Rico Manorico and Other Stories"), Santillana Publishing, 1997.
Eccentric Neighborhoods, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998, translated by the author as Vecindarios eccentricos, Vintage (New York, NY), 1999.
La Extrana muerte del Capitancito Candelario, Plaza & Janes Editores, 1999.
A la sombra de tu nombre (essays), Alfaguara (Mexico), 2001.
Flight of the Swan, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2001, translated by the author as Vuelo del cisne, Vintage (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to books, including Contextos: Literarios hispanoamericanos, edited by Teresa Mindez-Faith, Holt (New York, NY), 1985; Anthology of Contemporary Latin American Literature, 1960-1984, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986; Reclaiming Medusa: Short Stories by Contemporary Puerto Rican Women, Spinsters Aunt Lute (San Francisco, CA), 1988; and Interviews with Latin American Writers, edited by Marie-Lisa Gazarian Gautier, Dalkey Archive Press, 1989. Some of Ferré's writings have also been anthologized in Ritos de iniciacion: Tres novelas cortas de Hispanoamerica, a textbook for intermediate and advanced students of college Spanish, by Grinor Rojo, and Anthology of Women Poets.
SIDELIGHTS: "Rosario Ferré," wrote Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Carmen S. Rivera, "has become the 'translator' of the reality of Puerto Rican women, opening the doors for the feminist movement on the island. By combining classical mythology with indigenous folktales that usurp the traditional actions of female characters, Ferré has interpreted, translated, and rewritten a more active and satisfying myth of Puerto Rican women." Ferré—the daughter of a former governor of Puerto Rico—writes about politics (she favors Puerto Rican independence), about literature, and about the status of women in modern Puerto Rican society. A former student of Angel Rama and Mario Vargas Llosa, she often utilizes magic realist techniques to communicate her points. "Many critics believe that with the publication of her first book," Rivera continued, "Ferré began the feminist movement in Puerto Rico and became, if not its only voice, one of its most resonant and forceful spokespersons."
Chronologically, Ferré's first work was the short-story collection Papeles de Pandora. Its original Spanish-language version was published in Mexico in 1976, but it was not until 1991 that an English-language translation by the author became available. "Defiant magic feminism challenges all our conventional notions of time, place, matter and identity in Rosario Ferré's spectacular new book, The Youngest Doll," declared Patricia Hart in the Nation. New York Times Book Review contributor Cathy A. Colman stated that "Ferré . . . writes with an irony that cloaks anger about the oppression and danger inherent in being either a protected upper-class woman or a marginalized working-class woman caught in Puerto Rico's patriarchal society." In the story "Sleeping Beauty," for example, a young woman's desire to become a dancer is railroaded by her family, who wants her to marry an aristocratic young man. The protagonist of "The Poisoned Story" starts out as a Cinderella figure (she marries a sugarcane planter) but ends up playing the role of a wicked stepmother to his daughter. "From beginning to end . . . whether she is conceiving stories, translating them or providing commentary," Hart concluded, "Rosario Ferré shines, and it is high time for English-speaking readers to bask in her light."
Ferré's first work to be translated into English was Sweet Diamond Dust, a short novel telling the stories of influential Puerto Rican women in different time periods. "Ferré parodies novels about the land, a popular genre during the first half of the [twentieth] century, as she sets out to rewrite Puerto Rican history from a woman's perspective," Rivera declared. "She describes how the island (isla is a female noun in Spanish) is oppressed by the government and American businesses—both of which are rendered as masculine in Spanish—while drawing parallels to the situation of women." Reviewer Alan Cheuse, writing in the Chicago Tribune, called Ferré "one of the most engaging young Latin American fiction writers at work today," and added, "Ferré shows off her linguistic talent as well as her inventiveness by giving us her own English version of the book."
The House on the Lagoon, Ferré's first work composed in English, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1996. "Most of this novel," declared a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "is comprised of . . . semi-fictionalized family history." The book tells of a Puerto Rican couple, Quintin Mendizabal and Isabel Monfort, who come into conflict over politics—she favors independence for the island, he favors close ties with the United States—their attitudes—he believes in traditional women's roles, she favors feminism—and the history she is writing, which includes stories about her husband's family. The family's black servant Petra Aviles also plays a role in the family dynamic. "The novel's conclusion affirms in the strongest terms the necessity of interracial alliances, both sexual and familial, to the future of a Puerto Rican community," wrote Judith Grossman in the Women's Review of Books. "Ferré dramatizes the issue of who gets to write history," stated a Publishers Weekly contributor, "gracefully incorporating it into a compelling panorama of Puerto Rican experience that is rich in history, drama and memorable characters." "The House on the Lagoon," Grossman concluded, "gives us a performance of great accomplishment and wit, and the sense of a world held in measured but deeply affectionate memory."
In Flight of the Swan, a novel that melds history and fiction, Ferré tells the story of her version of ballet legend Anna Pavlova, who due to historical upheavals in Russia, finds herself stranded with her dance troupe in Puerto Rico in 1917. She explores the themes of love and betrayal, politics, sex and art, through the voyeuristic narrator Masha, a member of Madame Pavlova's corps de ballet and her slavishly devoted servant. In the end Masha comes to see that, in spite of her mistress's foibles, Pavlova is ready to sacrifice everything for her art, which in turn forces Masha to question her own choices. Praising the novel as "fascinating," Americas contributor Barbara Mujica added that Flight of the Swan is "an entertaining and thought-provoking book that raises serious questions about class, race, sex, art, and politics. Both Madame and Masha are freely drawn characters whose conflicting perspectives shed light on both Puerto Rican politics during the early decades of the twentieth century and on the hierarchical world of Russian ballet."
Diana Postlethwaite wrote in the New York Times that while "the premise of Masha as earthy observer describing the misadventures of an ethereal drama queen is a promising one," "her voice is never consistently sustained." In addition, Postlethwaite noted, Ferré, whose command of English often forces her to rely on prefabricated prose, further complicates her story by telling it in a Russian voice. Publishers Weekly contributor Jeff Zaleski concurred that Ferré's writing in her second language "may account for the pedestrian quality of this novel," and that "the imaginatively conceived but strangely lackluster story" is overwhelmed by "an excess of historical details and long monologues." On the other hand, Washington Post contributor Laura Jacobs maintained that "Ferré writes beautifully when she is direct . . . but strains language in heated moments." She argued that "there is a shorter, stronger book inside Flight of the Swan, if only Ferré had put the manuscript through a final, fat-burning fast."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 145: Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Latina Self-Portraits: Interviews with Contemporary Women Writers, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 2000.
Sobre castas y puentes: Conversaciones con Elena Poniatowska, Rosario Ferré y Diamela Eltit, Editorial Cuarto Propio (Santiago, Chile), 2000.
Americas, January-February, 2002, Barbara Mujica, review of Flight of the Swan, p. 60.
Book, July, 2001, Susan Tekulve, review of Flight of the Swan, p. 76.
Chicago Tribune, January 13, 1989.
Critique, summer, 2000, Ronald D. Morrison, "Remembering and Recovering Goblin Market in Rosario Ferré's 'Pico Rico, Mandorico,'" p. 365.
Library Journal, August, 1995, p. 115; June 1, 2001, Ed Morales, review of A la sombra de tu nombre, p. 37.
Nation, May 6, 1991, pp. 597-598.
New York Times Book Review, March 24, 1991, p. 24; July 29, 2001, Diana Postlethwaite, review of Flight of the Swan, p. 21.
Progressive, August, 1998, Lisa Chipongian, review of Eccentric Neighborhoods, p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, July 3, 1995, review of The House on the Lagoon, p. 47; November 24, 1997, review of Eccentric Neighborhoods, p. 51; May 7, 2001, Jeff Zaleski, review of Flight of the Swan, p. 219.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1996, p. 168.
Studies in Short Fiction, spring, 1995, Augustus Puelo, "The Intersection of Race, Sex, Gender, and Class in a Short Story of Rosario Ferré," p. 227.
Washington Post, July 1, 2001, Laura Jacobs, review of Flight of the Swan, p. T09.
Woman's Review of Books, February, 1996, Judith Grossman, review of The House on the Lagoon, p. 5.
World Literature Today, summer, 1996, Ilan Stavans, review of The House on the Lagoon, p. 690; spring, 2002, Catherine E. Wall, review of Flight of the Swan, p. 151.*