A Review of Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas’ Don’t Come Back
July 3, 2017 § 5 Comments
By e.v. de cleyre
Let’s start with the almost-crash. When Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas writes about the time her sister is actually hit by a car in Bogota and the time she is almost hit by a car as a child, it reminds me of what happened in Tibet. I was on my way to karaoke with friends and a sedan sped toward me, not stopping. Suddenly someone’s hands were on my shoulders, and I was lifted and moved a few inches. The sedan stopped an inch from my knee cap.
Cabeza-Vanegas writes, “A second late on that tug and the car would have clipped me at best, ripped me apart at worst, written its name in my ribs and skull.”
Sometimes we read to find familiarity—the way certain lives overlap in uncanny ways. I was not expecting to find it in the pages of Don’t Come Back because the distances between my upbringing and the author’s felt vast. Yet Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas’s linked and narrative essays about Colombia, home, identity, and belonging grapples with “familiarity but never really feel[ing] at home,” a feeling I am familiar with, having traveled and returned “home” but never fully knowing or understanding what that meant. For Cabeza-Vanegas, this also means grappling with other people’s perceptions of Colombia—from US Customs agents to mythological renderings.
There is a breathlessness throughout with retellings of myths, a relentless pursuit of other people’s memories, and even a lack of spacing between dialogue that renders the text quite dense.
Reading Don’t Come Back brings to mind an entire canon of contemporary literature. The re-telling of Jorge Gaitán’s assassination in Colombia in “The Peach Orchard” is reminiscent of Elena Ferrante’s depictions of Naples. The images and graphs in “Empire of Toes” look and feel like the essays of Ander Monson or Patrick Madden. The shifting perspectives and circling of minor, and major violences read like Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children. Somewhere in there, a Colombian Leslie Jamison asks questions, grapples with empathy. And amidst the dreamscapes may be a hint of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The power of Lina Maria Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas’s Don’t Come Back is that it contains all of these, while still feeling entirely new.
Cabeza-Vanegas is in-between nations, languages, and mythologies. Her subject matter is as ambitious as the forms they take. Fragments, translations, interviews, code-switching, graphs, images, and multiple perspectives effectively strip the collection of a single, centered self, so that this is not just one narrator’s exploration of place, home, and identity. It’s a collection of interviews, histories, mythologies, and memories that circle around what remains to find shreds of understanding, familiarity. Somewhere in there lies resonance.
Literature may not erase gaps, but it brings them closer. Literature like this leaves an imprint, like a metal license plate on skin.
e.v. de cleyre is a semi-nomadic writer currently residing in the Midwest. She holds a BA and MFA in creative writing with a focus on nonfiction, and her essays and reviews appear in Brevity, Ploughshares online, The Review Review, and ayris.