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Tales from the Town of Widows
by James Canon

Published: 2007-01-01
Hardcover : 352 pages
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In the small Colombian mountain village of Mariquita, a band of guerrillas storms in to protest the country's ruling government. They arrive with propaganda and guns, and when they depart they have forcibly recruited all the town's men, leaving behind only a few—the priest and a young, ...

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In the small Colombian mountain village of Mariquita, a band of guerrillas storms in to protest the country's ruling government. They arrive with propaganda and guns, and when they depart they have forcibly recruited all the town's men, leaving behind only a few—the priest and a young, fair-skinned boy disguised as a little girl.

In their wake, Mariquita becomes a sinking wasteland filled with women who quickly resign themselves to food shortages, littered streets, and mourning. Without men, life is hopeless, and getting along, nearly impossible. But, Rosalba viuda de Patiño, wife of the former police sergeant, sees a different fate for the town of widows. She declares herself magistrate and promises to instill law and order while restoring the failing economy and infrastructure. Reluctantly, the women agree to join forces. A utopia emerges, one that ironically resembles the ideal society the guerrilla group claims to promote.

Deft, rich, and darkly humorous, Tales from the Town of Widows is a captivating exploration of gender and sexuality that uses the ongoing conflict in Colombia as a backdrop. It presents a fascinating portrait of ill-fated wives and the war that helped them build a peaceful, equality-based society.

Exquisitely wrought, remarkably original, James Cañón's stunning debut marks the arrival of an unforgettable new literary talent.

Editorial Review

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Chapter 1: The Day The Men Disappeared

Mariquita, November 15, 1992

THE DAY THE MEN disappeared started as a typical Sunday morning in Mariquita: the roosters forgot to announce dawn, the sexton overslept, the church bell didn’t summon the faithful to attend the early service, and (as on every Sunday for the past ten years) only one person showed up for six o’clock mass: Doña Victoria viuda de Morales, the Morales widow. The widow was accustomed to this routine, and so was el padre Rafael. The first few times it had been uncomfortable for both of them: the small priest almost invisible behind the pulpit, delivering his homily, the widow sitting alone in the first row, tall and buxom, quite still, her head covered with a black veil that dropped over her shoulders. Eventually they decided to ignore the ceremony and often sat together in a corner drinking coffee and gossiping. On the day the men disappeared, el padre Rafael complained to the widow about the severe decrease in the church’s revenue, and they discussed ways to revive the tithe among the faithful. After their chat, they agreed to skip confession, but the widow received communion nonetheless. Then she said a few prayers before returning to her house. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. One of the astonishing things about this book is that the author chose to write it in English, a language he didn't even begin speaking until 1995.

a). Do you think this would be a completely different book had he written it in his first language?
b). How do you think it would be different?

2. One of the reviewers described Tales from the Town of Widows as "prime magical realism a la García Márquez, Cortázar and Vargas Llosa."

a). Do you agree with that characterization?
b). How would you characterize this book?
c). How does this book compare to other South American novels?

3. When their men are taken away by communist guerrillas, the women of Mariquita lose their family providers.

a). What else, in your opinion, did the women of Mariquita lose?
b). What did they gain?

4. James Cañón’s debut novel puts forth a fascinating societal question: what if all the men in a town were wiped out in a war, and the women were left alone? With the current situation in our country, and much of the world, this topic is sure to spark serious discussion.

a). Do you think males are expendable?
b). What would a community without men in America be like?
c). What would you do if you were left to develop a whole new way of coping with the trials of everyday life?
d). What new systems would you put into place?
e). Could you come up with something better?
f). Could you impact the world in new and improved ways?

5. Cañón challenges the modern ideas of gender and sexuality, questions whether socialist principles are the evil we believe them to be, and above all, provokes new ways to view equality and leadership in today’s often confused social atmosphere.

a). Do you agree?
b). Why?

6. Jonathan Kirsch, from The Washington Post Book World Review, said about the chronicles from the men, which alternate with the Tales from the women, that “the occasional moments of atrocity go off like land mines among the more frequent moments of sexual adventure and sexual ambiguity that decorate this otherwise comic account of the rise and fall of a gynocratic utopia.”

a). Do you agree?
b). What was your reaction to the vignettes from the men?

7. This book tackles big issues—religion, politics, gender, history, and Latin American studies.

a). Do you think that literature can play a role in achieving social justice?
b). Do you think that literature can influence the politics of a region?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A Note from James Canon for BookMovement Members:

Dear Reader-

Imagine what would happen if all the men in a town were swept off in a war and the women were left alone… Considering the current situation in much of the world, this topic is sure to generate serious questions.

In my first novel, Tales from the Town of Widows, a band of guerrillas arrives in the village of Mariquita, forcibly "recruits" all the men and takes them away to fight for the communist cause. In a single tragic event, the women and children of the village are left alone to deal with both nature's powerful elements and the absence of the men who had ruled their lives. Now virtual widows, the women must fend for themselves, must get beyond their grief and pull together to survive. In the process of rebuilding their lives, they challenge the strong male orientation of the world and discover their own strength, self-sufficiency and power. Ultimately, they create a social order based on female values: harmony, cooperation and respect for every individual.

This all-female utopia is put to the test when, after sixteen years, four men return to the village… Read Tales from the Town of Widows to find out what happens.

The idea for writing this novel came to me after reading a Colombian newspaper. In it there was an article about a village in the Colombian mountains where communist guerrillas had taken most men away. They talked about how it was almost a trend for guerrilla groups to force peasants and Indians into fighting for their cause. My question (which the article didn’t answer) was ‘What’s going to happen to the women?’ To me, the consequential thing wasn’t that many men had been taken away, but rather that many women and their children had been left behind and needed to move on with their lives. Colombian women are very strong and have an incredible capacity to endure (skills they’ve learned from having lived in the midst of the country’s four decades of civil war). So I knew they could survive without their men, the question was how they would go about it, and how this process would transform them as individuals and as a society.

Tales from the Town of Widows is my answer to that question. It is also my way of giving voice to women everywhere who live in repressed societies.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "A nice reading"by mpaniaguatej (see profile) 03/04/10

with an original theme. Intresrested argument sometimes crazy but the end left me indiferent. The idea of a modern society rule by women the way Cañón describes it is great but I expected a more surprising/fantastic... (read more)

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