The Adventures of China Iron begins with a moment of lyricism that isn’t any less powerful for being directed at a dog ... China Iron showcases a remarkably fresh vision of life on the 19th-century pampas ... It’s easy to categorize China Iron at first as magical realism, but it’s something else entirely, a historical novel that reminds us, in Cabezón Cámara’s entrancing poetry, how magical and frankly unpleasant it is to live through history ... a masterly subversion of Argentine national identity ... The translation by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh is sure-footed, Cabezón Cámara’s lush prose spilling out without hesitation.
The Adventures of China Iron certainly passes the Bechdel test. It focuses on two plucky women who cross the pampas in search of a new way of life ... Cámara gives the classic narrative of macho men corralling the natives and cultivating the vast grasslands a deliberately queer slant ... Brilliantly translated by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre, this is a heartfelt, dreamlike paean to Argentina’s past and what might have been had the pampas been left alone.
The original Martín Fierro focuses on male characters, explicitly excluding women, especially those who are black or indigenous. China Iron inverts this dynamic ... China Iron also acknowledges those who are implicitly excluded, such as gays and gender nonconformists (especially those who are gender queer and indigenous) ... This reinterpretation of Martín Fierro through a feminist, lesbian, postcolonial perspective compels readers to examine critically not only the biases of the myths we celebrate, but also how they seep into our contemporary understandings of nationhood ... Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre worked together to craft a translation that is as engrossing as the original.
[The] daring, playful story of a young woman in pursuit of a freer life ... Cámara’s narration of China’s life story is in parts akin to the most fanciful episodes of Tom Jones or Tristram Shandy, where questions of narrative reliability run rampage ... beautifully wrought ... Cámara is at her best when depicting injustice through startlingly ordinary means ... It is no spoiler to say that China does find freedom, for the means by which she gets there and the twists, turns and hallucinogens that pin the tale together are wonderfully unexpected.
Queering the past in order to question the many missed opportunities to live in other ways is one focus, but the novel also suggests alternative futures that might yet be possible to construct. And even though Cabezón Cámara has turned to a well-worn tale not widely known outside Argentina, her inspiring iconoclasm resonates far beyond that country’s borders—most visible, perhaps, in The Adventures of China Iron ... The Adventures of China Iron brings to light some of the many possible (and far more positive) outcomes that national poems and narratives had obscured or even occluded outright. And so, even as the novel seems to avoid all contact with the current moment, it actually speaks to us and to the constantly shifting world in which we live, shaking loose new possibilities for how we might reshape the present precisely by unsettling something seemingly so settled as the past.
Sentences bound on from one page to another, seeming almost as long as the vignette-like chapters, in a thrilling and mystical miniature epic. This story, drunk on words and visions, is an elegy to the land and its lost cultures.