Irene Vilar translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa

The Ladies' Gallery

A Memoir of Family Secrets

Publication Date: Oct 06, 2009

360 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781590513231


List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781590513736

With a foreword by Carlin Romano

A shred of black lace. A broken hand mirror. A spidery strip of false eyelash. These are the fragments left to Irene Vilar, granddaughter of Lolita Lebrón, the revered political activist for Puerto Rican independence who in 1954 sprayed the U.S. House of Representatives with gunfire, wounding several congressmen, and served twenty-seven years in prison. In The Ladies’ Gallery, Vilar revisits the legacy of her grandmother and that of her anguished mother, who leaped to her death from a speeding car when Vilar was eight.

Eleven years after her mother’s death, Vilar awakens in a psychiatric hospital after her own suicide attempt and begins to face the devastating inheritance of abandonment and suicide passed down from her grandmother and mother. The familial pattern of self-destruction flings open the doors to her national inheritance and the search for identity. Alternating between Vilar’s notes from the ward and the unraveling of her family’s secrets, this lyrical and powerful memoir of three generations of Puerto Rican women is urgent, impassioned, and unforgettable.

Excerpt from The Ladies’ Gallery

MARCH 1, 1954. In the afternoon, a young woman together with three men entered the House of Representatives of the United States of America and opened fire. Next day, the front page of the New York Times would show the same woman wrapped in the revolutionary flag of Puerto Rico, her left fist raised high. What the Times would not quote were her words, “I did not come here to kill. I came here to die.” An old battle cry of Puerto Rican nationalism. She would be sentenced to fifty-seven years in prison for assault and conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States.

MARCH 1, 1977. On the twenty-third anniversary of the attack on Congress, her daughter commits suicide in Puerto Rico. The mother is flown secretly to the island for a day to attend the funeral.

FEBRUARY 1, 1988. A gray winter day: the daughter’s daughter becomes a suicidepatient at Hutchings Psychiatric Hospital, in Syracuse, New York. Repetition informs my life. A teacher of mine once told me not to fear repetition, “Just don’t be blacklisted by it.” Well, I am the product of repetitions. Of family secrets. Every family has its own; usually it is the untold family story a child is destined unwittingly to repress, or to repeat. We inherit these secrets the way we inherit shame, guilt, desire. And we repeat.

“Lolita Lebrón’s granddaughter, heir to the most public female embodiment of heroic self-sacrifice in Puerto Rico in this century, has written a memoir full of searing, intimate truths, silences broken open to reveal the personal costs of public mythmaking . . .A momentous act of courage.” —Women’s Review of Books

“This memoir introduces us to a writer bound to make an impact . . . An autobiography as fantastic as any novel . . .It is a mark of Vilar’s art that her story seems warm and alive.” —Boston Globe

“Just as artist Frida Kahlo’s splintered self-portraits and diaries personify Mexico’s proud yet fragmented self-image, Vilar’ s intimate accounts about herself and her family personalize Puerto Rico’s political, social, and cultural wars for its identity.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Startling, raw, and affecting, a painful exercise in which memoir as therapy becomes memoir as art.” —Philadelphia Inquirer, Notable Book of the Year

“Stunning. A lyrical and visionary memoir of depression, Puerto Rican identity, and young womanhood.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)