Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo is a pretty difficult book to stomach. It is not because it’s about women and their sexuality, but because the entire narrative is so unapologetically blatant in describing them. Or, rather, “cruelly” so. It’s like a slap in the face of everybody who believes that women should keep docile, modest and only follow the generational, social rules and patriarchal views in which they should not show their desire, should not be sexually active, or that they cannot be as sexually free as men are. This book wants to tell readers that women cannot be sexually repressed, should not be sexually repressed. And that they should not be punished for being a victim of sexual harassment and/or abuse.
The first part is a novella entitled Waiting for a Hurricane. The opening paragraph truly gives a punch, with the middle of it talking about being in the middle:
The middle was the worst place to be: hardly anyone made it out of the middle. It was where the lost causes lived: there, nobody was poor enough to resign themselves to being poor forever, so they spent their lives trying to move up in the world and liberate themselves. When all attempts failed – as they usually did – their self-awareness disappeared and that’s when all was lost. – (page 7)
The unnamed female narrator is always where she has been since she was born, dreaming of getting out of the place where she is now. She doesn’t care if she’s very smart and could have a “bright future”, she only cares about running away, escaping the small city she lives in. She even dumps her boyfriend because she knows he will never (be able to) bring her out of their hole. And finally she decides to be an air hostess, that way she at least can leave her city even if only for a short time and be back again. She becomes more and more desperate to go away upon seeing her brother marrying a nurse from the US, hence gaining a green card. But after so many efforts she has done, she can only eventually find herself stuck in the middle, in the life that she knows with someone who is also never going anywhere.
The second part of the book, Worse Things, is a mini short-story collection consisting of seven stunningly disturbing pieces. Once again, they’re not disturbing because of the ideas, but rather for how merciless the narratives can be. Like A Pariah might only be a simple story about an old woman in the middle of her recovery after having a cancer, but later it is revealed that deep down she still has her desire and that it is somewhat satisfied by a man so much younger than she is. The question then might not be “what is wrong with her?”, but rather “is it wrong?”
Another “disturbing” piece in this part is the titular short story, Fish Soup. It’s disturbing in a way that Mr. Aldo Villafora always has bad imaginations of his wife while he is in delirium. In his mind, his wife is a “whore”, always having sexual relationships with many different men, always brutally shameless. There’s also a point in his dreams where his wife is already dead, and what is left is only bad memories. The whole narrative clearly shows that Mr. Villafora doesn’t have quite a good impression of his wife, thinking that his wife is a “bad woman”. But then the question is, why? And the next question is, does that impression match his wife’s real character? Seeing that, as it is, the real person of his wife is not presented until the end of the story, and only in a glimpse with an anxiety over Mr. Villafora’s condition.
Something We Never Were is an attempt to reverse the male-female point of view on men-women (sexual) relationship. It is very often that we see men having free sexual relationships with any woman they like without maintaining ties while women have to bear whatever consequences there are. But here we see Salvador yearns for a “normal” boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with Eileen while the girl only wants sex and nothing more. The differences between them do not stop there. Eileen is too well-read and too broad-minded for Salvador that he cannot catch up with her train of thoughts, cannot understand her. And while he feels more and more in love with her, she doesn’t seem to have the same feeling at all. And when Salvador finally wants to break up with her, Eileen just cannot get, “what is there to break?”
The third and final part is another novella, Sexual Education. Well, it is, in part, about sexual education in which young girls in a school are encouraged to refrain from having (free) sexual relationships, seeing that so many have ruined their own future by having babies so early and being married off in such a young age. But, of course, some students do not just be quiet and comply with the teachings. Particularly Dalia, the narrator’s close friend, who has no qualms whatsoever about revealing her thoughts about women’s sexuality and doing sexual activities freely and openly with her boyfriend. But our narrator is so sick of her friend’s behavior and her way of (sex) life, though she herself doesn’t seem to agree with her teacher.
The story doesn’t have any end, as it is opened and is not concluded in any way. It even ends up displaying “another story” where one of their schoolmates is being raped by several boys and that she cannot get justice, cannot even spread the news about her tragedy because the editor of the newspaper is a relative of one of the rapists. And the boys, of course, are spared from any punishment.
Generally speaking, all stories in this book do not have any specific end. They all do not have any conclusion. It is as if Robayo wants to show that women’s problems, whatever they are, never have any solution. Women keep being hit by patriarchal views and practices, and especially, sexually. Fish Soup may not be a breakthrough in itself, but it is definitely a statement, a harsh statement, that those patriarchal views and practices against women should stop right now, that women should get justice when they are being the victims of sexual misconduct done by men, that there should be an end to it.
Margarita García Robayo’s Fish Soup is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time, in a way that it’s so true and blatant that readers might want to stop and take a breath and admit to themselves that this is what happens, what always happens, in our society, even up to this day. It wants to wake us up by pouring cold water right to our face, making us shocked and see the reality immediately. And it doesn’t feel sorry for it, because that’s the least that it can do.