BOGOTA – Nearly 100 years ago female workers in the northwestern Colombian city of Medellin became the first women in the Andean nation to go on strike, a historical milestone that author Angela Becerra recounts in her latest novel.
“I found a treasure, because it came looking for me,” she said of her latest work, “Algun dia, hoy,” published by Planeta.
“If I hadn’t turned on the television at two in the morning that day, I would have started writing another novel, but the stories come looking for you and I think if they deem you worthy they permeate you, and that’s what happened with this story,” Becerra said in an interview with EFE.
The 61-year-old native of the southwestern Colombian city of Cali describes over the course of 816 pages the story of Betsabe Espinal, the woman who led that textile workers strike between February and March 1920.
According to Becerra, very little information exists about Espinal despite her importance in the struggle to achieve dignified working conditions and uphold women’s rights.
The strike that Espinal led began on Feb. 12, 1920, in the metropolitan area of Medellin and was launched to protest exploitation and denigrating working conditions faced by women at a textile factory.
The novel recalls the struggle of these women against abuses that seem absurd in a modern context, such as lack of access to a restroom and a prohibition on wearing shoes at work.
“I fell in love with Betsabe, with that strength, and I very much identify with her. That’s why it’s so easy for me to assume her personality and reconstruct her, because she is incomplete in terms of time, in terms of life experiences. She is only visible during the three or four weeks that the strike lasts,” Becerra said.
Early 20th century Medellin, a city that was beset by sharp social contrasts and confronting major technological changes, serves as backdrop – along with Paris – for a story marked by dramatic events and heroic actions.
“The more I investigated the more desire I had to immerse myself in the story, because it would also transport me back in time to that turn of the century, and not only of Medellin ... I’d also encounter the revolutionary, artistic Paris of Montparnasse that I wish I could have experienced first-hand and was able to do so thanks to the novel,” the writer said.
Winner of Spain’s Fernando Lara Novel Award for 2019, “Algun dia, hoy” immerses the reader in the heroine’s life, exploring her relationship with her mentally ill mother, her complex but profound friendship with Capitolina, her impossible love with Emmanuel Le Blue and the strike that cemented her place in history.
“I always felt frustrated at not having the opportunity to rebel as a teenager ... and Betsabe is allowing me to give free rein to that,” she added.
In the novel, Becerra merges the reality of one of the most important episodes in Latin America’s women’s rights struggle with her inventiveness in terms of characters, places and nature, which are characteristic elements of the author’s “magical idealism.”
“I think she connected with me. I think that in my other novels the seed of that was there because with every female protagonist I’ve sought to reflect their strength, and in this one I think it was a case of the dam bursting and everything pouring out. But it was already there latent,” the author said.