BOOK REVIEW: The Queens of Sarmiento Park by Camila Sosa Villada

November 1, 2022

The Queens of Sarmiento Park

This astonishing, beautifully complex achingly sweet and devastatingly brutal book from Argentinian writer Camila Sosa Villada is like a complex flower in your hand; picked, beautiful, already fading but full of such complex beauty and heady perfumed that it intoxicates. You take it off with you, a memento of beauty, but it refused to play your game of eternal presence and fades, its beauty leaching out leaving you with a pulpy mass on which to reconstruct and project your memories of delicate beauty. Camila, our narrator, and main protagonist’s story is like this, you can only appreciate it by observing it in the wild garden that Villada creates for it, on her terms, with her words, from her own life’s experience. There’s no halfway house to this book, based as it in a series of homes and lives which all seek safe places and places to unfold their beauty.  We walk with Camila as she works her way across the years, sharing lives, hopes and violent losses with her found family.

Opening with a hard slap across the yet to be decolonised arrogant face of Euro centric pathologizing terminology and politicisation of gender diverse bodes which is also a determined staking of ground, and the right to self-definition, the book is a simple tale, of family found, of people gravitating to a home which allows them to flourish, to new members of the family and old ones leaving and how it’s held together by the strength, love and dreams of a matriarchal Kween Aunty Encarna who loves unconditionally but fiercely protects what she fosters.

Wildly imaginative, darkly funny and devastatingly sad, it is a queer fairy tale about sex work, gender identity and chosen family; an anguished howl of pain and rage; and an unruly hymn to love and care on the outskirts of society.

Villada’s magical prose is alive the mind, restless, startling, bursting out like heady roses filled with the flesh ripping thorns of brutal honesty exploration of the experience of selling your body to live in this diverse community of poor sex workers. The construction of the narrative is flawless, seducing you on, prowling the outskirts of imagination, soft fur, claw, the warmth of a den all drawing you into this raw exploration of the human need for love.

Set in and around the park of the books title we follow the lives of the folx who live in and out of Aunty Encarna’s home as she finds a baby abandoned in a ditch and brings it home to raise it as her own. The impacts of this decision ripple out across the book as we watch her find ways to protect her son from the wicked prejudice of the world around her.  Wrapped up in poetic symbolism and the verdant passionate prose of magical realism this story is peculiarly addictive, dripping into your mind after you’ve closed the book, scuttling across the attic of your imagination in the dark, waking you, watching you, breathing, like a lover, right behind you in the soft urgent way, breathless with expectation.

It’s also deeply challenging and devastating, and the book left me sad for a while, a story which punched me with its duality of fierce hope and desperate circumstance, a story of reality wrapped up safe to keep it alive. Safe on it’s own terms. Safe for a moment.

It’s going to stay on my shelves this book, impatiently waiting its repeated reading, tapping its manicured fingers each time I walk by, promising me a new perspective on my life with Camila. Blowing kisses and laughing at my serious life. The Queens of Sarmiento Park is a really wonderful piece of work, filled with savage ideas presented in delicate baroque bouquets of words, it makes sense, it flows, pulses with hope under a brutal hard society, but it has a unique South American style to it.  I absolutely adored it, in the face of bleak reality and a world which rejects anyone different it offers pure trembling life affirming moments of brilliant vibrant hope, a spiritual connection with the essence of life, an irrefutable rightness of being you, which cannot be taken away by harsh grinding realism and the experience of which blasts the shadows all around with its powerful sustaining light, no matter how fleeting that may be.

Out now £14.99

For more info or to order the book follow this link to the publisher’s website.