A Celebration of Antonio Benítez-Rojo and Woman in Battle Dress
Sunday, September 27, 2015, 5:00PM, City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
An epic, historical novel about a bold, transgressive woman whose life became the subject of Cuba's most sensational legal trial.
In 1809, at the age of 18, Henriette Faber enrolled herself in medical school in Paris—and since medicine was a profession prohibited to women, she changed her name to Henri in order to matriculate. She would spend the next fifteen years practicing medicine and living as a man.
Drafted to serve as a surgeon in Napoleon's army, Faber endured the horrors of the 1812 retreat across Russia. She later embarked to the Caribbean and set up a medical practice in a remote Cuban village, where she married Juana de León, an impoverished local. Three years into their marriage, de León turned Faber in to the authorities, demanding that the marriage be annulled. A sensational legal trial ensued, and Faber was stripped of her medical license, forced to dress as a woman, sentenced to prison, and ultimately sent into exile. She was last seen on a boat headed to New Orleans in 1827.
In this, his last published work, Antonio Benítez-Rojo takes the outline provided by historical events and weaves a richly detailed backdrop for Faber, who becomes a vivid and complex figure grappling with the strictures of her time. Woman in Battle Dress is a sweeping, ambitious epic, in which Henriette Faber tells the story of her life, a compelling, entertaining and ultimately triumphant tale.
Praise for Woman in Battle Dress:
"Woman in Battle Dress by Antonio Benítez-Rojo, which has been beautifully translated from the Spanish by Jessica Ernst Powell, is the extraordinary account of an extraordinary person. Benítez-Rojo blows great gusts of fascinating fictional wind onto the all but forgotten embers of the actual Henriette Faber, and this blazing tale of her adventures as a military surgeon and a husband and about a hundred other fascinating things is both something we want and need to hear."––Laird Hunt, author of Neverhome
"A picaresque novel starring an adventurous heroine, who caroms from country to country around the expanding Napoleonic empire, hooking up with a dazzling array of men (and women) as she goes. A wild ride!"––Carmen Boullosa, author of Texas: The Great Theft
"As detailed as any work of history and as action filled as any swashbuckler, Woman in Battle Dress is not only Antonio Benítez Rojo's last and most ambitious book, but also his masterpiece. In this graceful English translation of Henriette Faber's autobiography––more than fiction, less than fact––American readers will have access to one of the most engaging novels to come out of Latin America in recent years."––Gustavo Pérez-Firmat
Antonio Benítez-Rojo (1931–2005) was a Cuban novelist, essayist and short-story writer. He was widely regarded as the most significant Cuban author of his generation. His work has been translated into nine languages and collected in more than 50 anthologies. One of his most influential publications, La Isla que se Repite, was published in 1989 by Ediciones del Norte, and published in English as The Repeating Island by Duke University Press in 1997.
Jessica Powell has translated numerous Latin American authors, including works by César Vallejo, Jorge Luis Borges, Ernesto Cardenal, Maria Moreno, Ana Lidia Vega Serova and Edmundo Paz Soldán. Her translation (with Suzanne Jill Levine) of Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo's novel Where There's Love, There's Hate, was published by Melville House in 2013. She is the recipient of a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship in support of her translation of Antonio Benítez Rojo's novel Woman in Battle Dress.
Suzanne Jill Levine is a leading translator of Latin American literature, and professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara where she directs a Translation Studies doctoral program. Her scholarly and critical works include her award-winning literary biography Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman (FSG & Faber& Faber, 2000) and her groundbreaking book on the poetics of translation The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction (published in 1991 and reissued this year by Dalkey Archive Press, along with her classic translations of novels by Manuel Puig).
Enrico Mario Santí became in 2000 the first William T. Bryan Endowed Chair in Hispanic Studies at the University of Kentucky. Before coming to UK, he taught at Duke, Cornell and Georgetown. In addition to his work on Neruda, and Paz, Santí has devoted books to José Martí and Fernando Ortiz. Bienes del siglo. Sobre cultura cubana (2002) gathers together thirty years´ worth of his essays on Cuban topics. Santí serves on editorial boards of over a a dozen scholarly journals, and his research has been supported over the years by a number of grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. For years he was one of the four rotating editors of the journal Cuban Studies and produced a number of issues devoted to literature and culture. In 1996, Santí was named the youngest holder of the Emilio Bacardí Moreau Visiting Professorship of Cuban Studies at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where he taught a seminar on "Literature and Film of the Cuban Republic". In 1998 the Southern California Institute of Cuban-American Culture awarded him its highest award: the "Palma Espinada" Prize for life and career achievement. Santí is also a published poet and a frequent art critic.
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