The Limit of Words and Silence
Geraldine O’Connell Cusack
Raven’s Wing Books
The Limit of Words and Silence is the tale of three generations of women. The story begins in France and ends in the desert town of Chacabuco, Chile. Author Geraldine O’Connell Cusack builds the framework of this book around the volatile history of the Chilean government and the country’s working poor. Cusack is a master storyteller who has crafter a tale that will leave a lasting impression on the mind and soul of the reader.
The story opens in the year 1990, with Carmen Gajardo Marchand waiting with others as the remains of their loved ones are being excavated from the sandy trenches in Chacabuco, Chile. Sixteen years before the dig, many young activists were killed during the military takeover of the Chilean government. As Carmen waits for her daughter’s body to be exhumed, the reader is told the story of Carmen’s mother Colette and then that of Carmen herself.
Colette Marchand was an illegitimate child from France whose merchant father was believed to have hailed from North Africa. She had many sisters and a mother who was a flower-seller in the port city of Marseille. As a teenager in 1925, Colette was discovered by the director of a dance company in Paris who heard the young woman singing on the street. After two years catering to the stars of Les Folies Bergere sixteen-year-old Colette was given an opportunity to perform with a traveling branch of the dance company that had been invited to Chacabuco, Chile. In Chile, Colette’s singing drew several male admirers. She fell in love with one, Senior Sabastian Mancini, a European mining engineer from a wealthy banking family.
The mine manager of Chacabuco, Jeremy Thompson, is the one who extended the invitation to perform to the dance company. His mission is to transform the Chacabuco desert into an exciting, lively town for the mine mangers and their families who’d come to Chile from Europe. After Coloette’s first performance, Jeremy was taken with her just as Sabastian Mancini was. Colette and Sabastian soon became lovers. Jeremy became obsessively jealous of the couple while another man, Raul Gajardo, a mine worker who also had feelings for Colette, watched the young woman from afar. Raul represents the working poor of Chile; one of those constantly searching for work with no opportunities to build their lives beyond the poverty they were born into. His love would prove to be the most sincere in the end.
When Colette discovers that she is pregnant, there revelation ends with her being separated from Sebastian and dismissed from the dance company and abandoned. Raul offers Colette a home in his parent’s house where she can have her baby and build a new life. With no other options, Colette goes with Raul to the village of San Pedro. After Colette settles into her new home, she develops a friendship with Raul that quickly turns to love. The couple marry shortly after Colette gives birth to Carmen. Carmen grows up with Pablo and Marcel, cousins by marriage. She loves Pablo and follows him to Calama where he works at the railway station. Marcel, Pablo’s jealous brother, joined the military. Carmen follows the traditional teachings of her mother and grandmother, both healers in San Pedro and opens a pharmacy in Calama. Pablo and Carmen marry. A falling out between Pablo and Marcel leads Carmen’s brother-in-law to harm her husband and her family in unimaginable ways. In 1950, Carmen and Pablo’s daughter, Paulette, was born.
The back drop of this tale of love lost and found, family and activism, is the history of the Chilean poor. The author writes in extensive detail about the great gap between the wealthy and those living in abject poverty in the South American country. She describes the political discord in the country: Chile’s fights with Bolivia and Peru over territory; the call of martial law in the 1940s as a result of protesting workers; the election of Chile’s first socialist president, Salvado Allende in 1970; and the military coupe three years later that resulted in the death of the president and the capture and mass murder of young, educated supporters of the socialist movement.
Pablo became a leader in the fight for workers’ rights. His activism lead to his capture and imprisonment for nearly five years. Eventually, Pablo’s burning for change in his country becomes his daughter, Paulette’s calling. Her life and the Gajardo Marchand family’s future are sacrificed for the movement.
This story is incredible. It is an epic tale of family, love, activism and sacrifice. The author adroitly manages the telling of the life stories of three generations of the Gajardo Marchand women, each of whom are powerful and steadfast in their own rights. There is a perfect balance of family and everyday struggles and the exciting, violent changes that come with the swings in government rule over Chile’s tumultuous political history. Each woman’s story adds color and texture to this book, and illustrates the impact that politics can have on every life, no matter how simple or sparse. The twist at the end had me cheering for the redemption of one of the early characters, which made it possible for Carmen’s character to come full circle even as she waits to bring her daughter’s remains home.
The Limit of Words and Silence is a harrowing, yet beautiful story. The writing is excellent. I highly recommend it.
Melissa Brown Levine
Independent Professional Book Reviewers