Woman in Battle Dress

Woman in Battle Dress
Translated by Jessica Powell

"Excerpt from Woman in Battle Dress in Levure littéraire"
Jun 25, 2017

"Who Are You? The Search for Henriette Faber"
Feb 17, 2017

A letter written to Antonio Benítez-Rojo by Enrico Mario Santí, read originally at the launching of Woman in Battle Dress at City Lights Bookstore on September 27, 2015.

- Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas


"Segments of the novel flow seamlessly from romance to history to picaresque to almost magical realism, and back again. And while the novel takes place mostly in Europe and the United States, the Caribbean accent is always present. In some ways you could be reading a novel written two hundred years ago. The romanticism, the dense unhurried prose, are all there, and Jessica Powell's translation beautifully captures the style and voice of the original. Precisely because it is so unobtrusive, this translation is so worthy of praise."––Robert Kaplan

"Jessica Powell/'Woman in Battle Dress' Named Finalist for 2016 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Translation"
Aug 25, 2016

Jessica Powell named as finalist for the 2016 PEN Center Literary Award for Translation.

- PEN Center USA

"Translator Jessica Powell and Woman in Battle Dress featured in UC Santa Barbara Alumni Magazine."
- CoastLines

"Excerpt of Woman in Battle Dress appearing in Literal: Latin American Voices"
May 12, 2016

Section of the first chapter of Woman in Battle Dress excerpted.

- Literal: Latin American Voices

Kirkus Reviews

"The final novel from Cuban writer Benítez-Rojo is a grand historical work about the kind of woman history often ignores . . . rarely has a historical person been so fully inhabited since Yourcenar told the story of Hadrian. Eventually, the novel morphs into metatext: 'I believe that all writing has a utilitarian purpose,' the narrator says, trying to write her story. And often, the matter of embodying another person's consciousness is useful enough."

World Literature Today

"Benítez-Rojo's clear writing breathes life into this woman’s story."


"Henriette Faber's life seems tailor-made for fiction. A Swiss orphan who disguised herself as a man, studied medicine in Paris, and served as a surgeon in Napoleon's Grand Armée during France's invasion of Russia in 1812, she later worked as a doctor in Cuba, where her identity was discovered only after she married another woman. In his impressive, hugely enjoyable final novel, the late Benítez-Rojo revivifies this little-known figure and recognizes her as an early champion of gender equality. Presented mostly chronologically, Henriette’s first-person account offers the complexity of an old-fashioned adventure narrative, packed with history and incident, yet is told with a candid, modern voice. Shaping her chronicle as she wishes, she stitches together numerous episodes, moving from her romance with a dashing Hussar to her picaresque journey with a traveling show, and spends significant time on Napoleon’s military victories and disasters, including the horrific retreat from Moscow. Details form Caribbean history are interwoven throughout, and through Henriette’s eyes, the author also addresses the economic factors that kept slavery alive in his native land."––Sarah Johnson

The Historical Novels Review

"Using the sparse historical records, [Benítez-Rojo] has skillfully reconstructed Henriette/Enriqueta's not-widely-known life story. The exquisitely detailed chronicle, written in the first person and seamlessly translated by Jessica Powell, is a fascinating read. We are taken along with Henriette on her epic journey, hear her thoughts, and observe the joys and pains she experiences while growing up, attending grand balls, having adventures on the battlefield, dealing with slaves, and practicing medicine in the demanding disguise of a man. . . . This is a valuable addition to existing stories about courageous gender-bending women, and as such it is highly recommended."

"La Cage Aux Mujeres"
Sep 27, 2015

SF Weekly's writeup for the book party at City Lights Bookstore for Woman in Battle Dress.

"Born in Switzerland in 1791, the orphan Henriette Faber was widowed at 18. Seeing few options beyond prostitution, she assumed a male identity and enrolled at Université de Paris to study medicine. Faber spent 15 years living as a man, first as a surgeon drafted into Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign and later as a doctor in a remote Cuban village. Ultimately, it was Faber's wife of several years who betrayed the secret, demanding an annulment and kicking off a sensational trial which ended with Faber's mandatory hospitalization — only after she had attempted suicide to avoid being stripped and paraded through the streets. Faber was eventually exiled to New Orleans, only to be resurrected and reclaimed by recent generations of Cubans in film, and more notably, in the final epic novel of the late great Antonio Benítez-Rojo. Tonight is a celebration, not only of the long-awaited translation of Woman in Battle Dress, but also of Benítez-Rojo's own life, which is nearly as exceptional as Faber's. Insightful translator Jessica Powell is joined by Suzanne Jill Levine, award-winning author of Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman, and Enrico Mario Santí, scholar of Cuban literature."

- SF Weekly


"This historical novel elaborates on the true story of Henriette Faber, a woman who assumed a man's identity in order to practice medicine in Cuba, where her identity was outed with disastrous results. Rojo, who defected from the island in 1980 after running the state-sponsored publishing house Casa de las Américas for years, is best known here for a collection of essays and literary criticism on the Caribbean, The Repeating Island. He gives his protagonist an irrepressible free spirit, which forces her to test the boundaries of sexual practice, identity, and nationalism of her time. Under this first-person adventure story, a somber question lingers: What’s the limit to the freedom you can write into your own life?"––Alexia Nader

"Passing in Translation: Jessica Powell on Antonio Benítez-Rojo's Woman in Battle Dress"
Oct 15, 2015

Jessica Powell, translator of the City Lights book Woman in Battle Dress by Antonio Benítez-Rojo is interviewed by Reading in Translation editor Lucina Schell. They talk about how Powell came across the project, the work of Benítez-Rojo, and the research necessary to translate a globe-trotting and historical narrative.

- Reading in Translation