Angeles Mastretta

Article Bio Works Merits Projects
gender, history
Written and spoken word (essay, novella, short story)
America, Central
created on:
June 4, 2003
last changed on:
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´With eyes wide open´ - Mexico from a woman´s poin

The works of the Mexican writer and journalist Angeles Mastrettas, born in 1949, can be seen as an integral part of the feminism of the 70s and 80s. In her essays and columns Mastretta writes about relevant aspects of emancipation, putting her themes into context in her narrative works. Her novel ´Mal de amores´ (Emilia) won the most coveted Latin American literary prize, the Rómulo Gallegos, won earlier by writers like Javier Marias, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa.
In the 80s Mexican women gained international attention by writing ironically about Mexican history and women´s role in society. Not only Laura Esquivel (whose first novel ´Bitter-Sweet Chocolate´ was made into an internationally celebrated film) but also Angeles Mastretta became known internationally for her novels and short stories. Her first novel ´Arrancame la vida´ (Mexican Tango) aroused controversy and strong emotional reactions, especially among Mexican literary critics, but though denigrated as trivial, it was more than a saleable love-story.

Superficially about Catalina, a wife and mother in the 30s and 40s in Mexico, it also reflects the political power-relationships in post-revolutionary Mexico together with its protagonists. The private struggle between Catalina and her husband, General Andrés Ascencio, reflects the national struggle within Mexico as a whole, and the two levels are brought together and interwoven.

A special feature of the novel, which is like a feminine educational one, is also the simple, conversational style used by Catalina, who is presented in the first person. Mastretta´s deliberately simple ´mass-cultural´ language sets her apart from writers of the Mexican boom period. The novel was decried as being an easily digestible mass-product, and the high sales´ figures rubbed salt in the general´s wounds. The figure of Catalina could not be classified easily as ´a stereotyped image of female subservience... or of feministic ambitions.´ Mastretta crossed the borderline, till then clear, between high literature and pulp fiction (see Kathrin Dussan: ´Arráncame la vida – zwischen massenkulturellen Klischees und Dekonstruktion / between mass-cultural clichés and deconstruction´, Berlin, 1996).

In 1990 Mastretta wrote the collection of short stories ´Mujeres con ojos grandes´ (Women with Big Eyes). These 37 short stories are of various size, and each focuses on another ´tia´ (Spanish for aunt) shown to be ahead of her time. The women, whether young or old, married, single or widowed, pretty or ugly, are at turning-points calling for maverick decisions. They face up to these challenges in often surprising ways.

With the controversy about her first novel in the background, Mastretta was keen to show her critics with ´Mujeres con ojos grandes´ that she was able to use a wide range of style and content. The books´ protagonists are women who, acting in the confusion of the Mexican revolution, are independent and quick-witted. They live out their sexuality or save their children from death by telling tales. Without directly advocating feminism, the protagonists free themselves from moral and social restraints if it is practical to do so.

This kaleidoscope of feminine fortunes suggests that Angeles Mastretta has had a wide range of personal experience, an impression which her volumes of essays reinforces. ´Puerto Libre´ (1993) and ´El Mundo iluminado´ (1998) are anthologies of her column, likewise called ´Puerto Libre´, which appears in the magazine NEXOS and in foreign magazines like El Pais or Die Welt.

After ´Arrancame la vida´ Mastretta published two further novels: ´Mal de amores´ (1996) and ´Ninguna eternidad como la mía´ (1999). In ´Mal de amores´ she wrote about a ménage à trois in the period of the revolution, and her female protagonist Emilia, like Catalina, subverts the order of society. In ´Ninguna eternidad como la mía´, her most recent novel, Mastretta has managed to show frankly but not unrealistically the changing role of women in the course of the 20th century.
Author: Monika Zessnik


Angeles Mastretta was born on 9th October 1949 in the provincial capital Publa in Mexico, where she then spent her childhood. Here, remote from ´social movements and political repression´ familiar to folk in other parts of the country, most of her fictional figures spend their childhood and youth, too.

After the death of her father, who greatly influenced her choice of career, Mastretta went in 1971 to Mexico D.F. to study journalism at the faculty for political and social sciences at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma México). After finishing her studies she worked for many Mexican daily and weekly magazines like ´Excélsior´, ´Unomásuno´ and ´La Jornada y Proceso´. Her column ´Del absurdo Cotidiano´ (About Daily Absurdities), which is still appearing regularly in the evening paper ´Ovaciones´, made her known throughout the whole land.

In1974 Mastretta was awarded a grant by the Centro Mexicano de Escritores, to enable her to take part in a writing workshop with renowned writers like Juan Rulfo and Salvador Elizondo. In the following years she taught at UNAM and was the director of the university´s museum Museo del Chopo from 1978 to 1982.

In 1985 her novel ´Arráncame me la vida´ appeared, and in 1988, together with the author Germán Dehesa, she moderated the TV talk-show ´La almohada´ (The Pillow.) She is the co-publisher of various magazines like the feministic magazine FEM and NEXOS, whose main publisher from 1983 to 1995 was her husband Héctor Aguilar Camin. In it, her column ´Puerto libre´ appeared regularly.

´Arráncame la vida´, which won the coveted Mexican literary prize Mazatlán, was translated into many languages, including English, French, German, Italian and Dutch. In 1997, her novel ´Mal de amores´ brought her the Latin American literary prize Rómulo Gallegos, won earlier by luminaries like Javier Marias, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa.



Published Written,
Seix Barral

El cielo de los leones

Published Written,
Editorial Seix Barral

Ninguna eternidad como la mía

Published Written,
Mexiko, Cal y Arena (Engl. No Eternity Like Mine)

Tear this heart out

Published Written,
Novel. Vintage: London

El mundo iluminado

Published Written,
Mexiko: Cal y Arena (Engl. The Illuminated World)

Mal de amores

Published Written,
Mexiko: Alfaguara. (Engl. Lovesick, published by Riverhead Books, 1997)

Puerto libre

Published Written,
Mexiko: Cal y Arena (Engl. Free Port)

Mujeres de ojos grandes

Published Written,
Cal y Arena: Mexiko. (Engl.: Women with Big Eyes. Riverhead Books: New York, 2003)

Mexican bolero

Published Written,
Novel. Viking: not stated

Arráncame la vida

Published Written,
Mexiko, Ediciones Océano

La pájara pinta

Published Written,
n/a. (Engl. Colorful bird)


Premio Mazatlán for ´Arráncame la vida´

Premio Rómulo Gallegos for ´Mal de amores´


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

The Mexico-festival in Berlin

(15 September 02 - 01 December 02)