La Bastarda

I read Trifonia Melibea Obono's short novel.

I read Trifonia Melibea Obono's short novel "La Bastarda" in the last two days. It was written in Spanish and translated into English by Lawrence Schimel. The protagonist Okomo is a queer girl whose mother died in childbirth and whose father could not pay the dowry before childbirth, so technically her parents were not married. Therefore, la bastarda. Her grandmother says Okomo is nobody's daughter, so she is the world's daughter. But she does not mean this lovingly. She makes Okomo call a man Papa just to get free sardines from him.

Okomo lives with her grandfather, grandmother, the grandfather's second wife, and the second wife's nephew. Okomo's mother's brother and sister live in other villages with their families. Okomo's mother's cousin Marcelo is queer and mostly considered an outcast. He has one home in the village and one in the forest. People in the village call him "man-woman" but he gets along with Okomo very well.

When Okomo's grandparents come to terms with their son's impotence, they tell Okomo to ask Marcelo to impregnate their son's wife. Marcelo refuses and that night the villagers burn his house down. Marcelo and his companion manage to flee without major injuries. They go back to their home in the forest.

Okomo discovers this case of arson when Dina, Linda and Pilar tell her. Even though Okomo's grandmother forbids her from talking to these "indecent" girls, Okomo makes friends with them. They have group sex in the forest. When Okomo and Dina fall in love, Linda and Pilar feel betrayed and tell the village that the two girls are "woman-man." Linda and Pilar's queerness is also revealed. All four face punishment either in the form of marriage or being sent to live with relatives in other villages. Eventually everyone finds their way home in the forest.

The story had me thinking about how the forest is a space for pleasure, fugitivity, queerness, autonomy. I learned to think about space this way from abolitionist organizer Alejo Stark's description of Saidiya Hartman's latest book: "[Hartman] shares with us the beauty, autonomy, anarchy, fugitivity, queerness, and errancy in forms of Black sociality — what she calls waywardness." (

I am reminded of how the five queer women in Carolina de Robertis's book Cantoras make a space for themselves, a space on an island away from surveillance, a space to be gay and do crimes.

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