Review of Rosario Tiejaras

The story of Rosario Tiejaras so strongly resonates with the Colombian and Latin American audience that it has been made into a movie and a T.V. show much in the way that La Femme Nikita has in the United States. Except instead of there being a secretive government organization that uses wayward, attractive youth which was to be executed for their crimes to ensure the maintenance of American power through targeted assassinations by newly minted model-like merchants of death, Rosario has no such assistance other than her brother, Johnefe, a low level associate with the cartel that wants to rise in the ranks by taking risky jobs as a sicaro.

The novel opens in media res by her one-time lover and friend taking her to a nearby hospital in a cab. She is bleeding extensively after being shot and is badly injured. The first sentence is one of many that I find utterly compelling, so am sharing it here:

“Since Rosario has been shot at point blank range while she was being kissed, she confused the pain of death with that of love.”

With this frame narrative established, we then learn about the backstory of the girl that the narrator is in love with despite the many red flags.

Rosario is 15 years old mestiza. Her parents came from the country in search of work – but lacking connections and skills, they soon turned to scavenging the city garbage. Her mother later become trained as a seamstress and got security as a live-in maid, but after the pregnancy was discovered her father left.

Tijeras, or scissors in Spanish, is not a common surname. In fact, it’s not a last name at all. Rosario explains received this nick name after she’d castrated the man who’d raped her when she was twelve. She’d run into him a few months later, seduced him and then brought him back to her house. Once there, she gets her revenge and he fled the house screaming, leaving a trail of blood from between his legs. He’s never seen again.

This is one of the many men that Rosario kills. Rosario doesn’t shy away from violence when disrespected, shooting and killing several people at point blank range.

Jorge Franco’s fiction is so powerful as rather than simply writing a sensational, but true to real life story, he is able to connect the hyper-sexualized and hyper-violent Rosario Tijeras to the broader historic forces pushing her in this direction without it being preachy. In a number of little details sprinkled throughout, we get to learn about the places where she picks up the view that her actions are not just acceptable but necessary if she is to have any chance at a life that doesn’t replicate what she sees as her mother’s endless drudgery. She wants to win at life, however winning in her case is difficult given her conditions and dangerous considering what she decides to do to achieve this. Commenting on the latter, here’s what the narrator says:

“Rosario’s fight isn’t so simple, it has very deep roots, from long ago, from earlier generations. Life weighs on her with the weight of this country, her genes drag along a race of sons of plenty and sons of bitches who with the blade of a machete cleared the pathways of life… Once proud, we are now ashamed, without understanding how, why, and when it all happened. We don’t know how long our history is, but we can feel it’s weight.”

For Rosario, this weight takes on a number of forms.

For one, on her body. Whenever she kills someone, she puts on weight and isolates herself. Once back to her normal form, she is able to exploit her beauty and sexual skills to get what she needs. And what a beauty she is.

And also in her search for meaning in the world. When her prayers to the Virgin of Perpetual Help and Christ Child goes unanswered, she briefly dabbles with Satanism. This ends, however, after she kills one of the members of the sect – which leads to a number of rumors being circulated about her. The stories are a mixture of invention, reality and an admixture of the two – and soon enough a number of other girls start adding the words “Rosario” or “Tiejeras” to their name.

The narrator at several points describes Rosario, in fact, less as a human than as a divine figure, an avatar of Death and Beauty wrapper up into one person – a dark eyed whore in a mini-skirt with bare-midriff top. The incarnation of Fear and Attraction wrapped up in one person, Rosario is both human and symbol.

The Poetry of the Dispossessed

“Did you ever notice that death rhymes with breath?” Rosario observed.

I was dabbling in poetry those days, and since she was curious I get her a little involved with what I was reading. She related everything to death, even the explication of my poetry…

There was a time when the three of us would shut ourselves up for an entire Sunday to smoke marijuana and read poetry. We would find phrases that made us think we understood the world now, others that made us nod our heads, leaving us speechless…”

In a country where saying the truth can lead to death, it’s perhaps not surprising that the three characters here all feel an affection for poetry – with all its creative and innovative ways for expression.

In fact, with this in mind it’s worth noting something that Rosario says in the opening of the book.

“Nobody’s ever going to kill me. I’m a weed.”

Notice the “weed” tattoo on her right hand…

And though in the last pages we learn of her death, there is a deeper degree of truth to her statement. Jorge Franco’s character may have died, but the soil within which she grew still remains and there are many other similar stories just like Rosario’s. The Narcos, which sometimes take her away for a week or more from Emilio, never take only her but have a clique of bad bitches that are able to join her at a moment’s notice.

While not evident by the book, I’ve spoken with Colombianas who’ve watched Sin Tetas Sin Hay Paradiso and viewed it as a guide rather than a warning, and who see the video for Beck G’s Mayores as inspirational rather than a sad commentary on Colombian society. Which is sensible, in a way, as those that would morally condemn the values within such cultural productions and the behaviors described therein rarely look at the structural issues.

While it’s not related particularly to this book, it’s this fact that’s made me think that there’s a connection between consumption of trap and places where the informal economy is a large means for people to get their needs met. It seems an intuitive truth worth writing more detail about elsewhere.

While I found myself sometime cringing at the narrators repressed love for Rosario, I am quite a fan of Jorge Franco’s urgent narrative style and the manner in which he is able to make her and her story so compelling.

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