As Uruguay scythed its way through World Cup opposition last month, it occurred to me that it’s a country I know very little about. So, thank heavens for The Invisible Mountain. It’s a tale of three generations of women and their encounters with pain and passion, poetry and politics.
But it's also the story of Uruguay, a small country making its way in a changing world. From Montevideo to "mate", the story offers a flavour of Uruguay that even the finest history books might struggle to capture.
The capital city, we're told, takes its name from a myopic explorer who first set eyes on its only piece of high ground and proclaimed: "Monte vide eu" - "I see a mountain". Meanwhile, mate (presumably pronounced maah-tay) is the ubiquitous tea-like drink that's as much a feature of this book as coffee is in Stieg Larsson's novels.
Given her experience of working in a rape crisis centre, it's perhaps unsurprising that the author doesn't show men in the kindest of lights. Abuse, inebriation, infidelity, violence: the full gamut of testosterone-fuelled awfulness is on show. The few men who are given a more sympathetic interpretation include a trans-sexual and Che Guevara.
Almost from the start, emotions run high, and throughout the prose is poetic. But the author stops short of a flowery style so beloved of romantic novels.
Above all, Carolina de Robertis presents herself as a gifted story-teller. The weary reader seeking solace in a good yarn is in safe hands.
The Invisible Mountain is by far the best book I’ve ever read about Uruguay. The fact that I’ve never read any other books about Uruguay shouldn’t take anything away from it.