About butterflies

30 September 2000 | Authors, Reviews

Birgitta Boucht

Photo: Charlotta Boucht

To think that it can be so cold in Cairo…

A woman sits there writing, and she feels cold. Her name is merely J; around her lie her mother’s posthumous papers. They look like a kaleidoscope. Beautiful formations succeed one another, but the picture is never fixed or unambiguous. Not until the day J is able to see something more than the enticing pictures in the kaleidoscope is she free. That day she stops feeling cold. That day she leaves Cairo in order to continue loving in Finland.

Mariposa is Birgitta Boucht’s captivating novel about a condition that is the opposite of the black holes in space. Mariposa means butterfly, and it is a concept that becomes an image of how a family, like a swarm of butterflies, move, flutter and touch one another, let birth and death elide with each other. To be a butterfly is to be charged with movement and energy instead of being sucked into the black emptiness. And seldom have I read a text that moves as beautifully as a butterfly.

Mariposa is a rare artistic breakthrough in Finland-Swedish literature. But when it was published last year reviewers were perplexed. How was one to interpret characters called Roza, Melancholie, Lilja, Lidia, Armand, Artur – so obviously coloured by a long cultural tradition. Are they archetypes? And if not, are they credible?

How is one to relate to all the different intonations in the book? The woman who is cold in Cairo is only a voice, after all, and does not seem to have control over the events. All the people, these fluttering butterflies, demand their own space for their own stories of betrayal, love, sorrow. Moreover: when a text that is called a novel is so obviously poetic and at the same time comic and burlesque, it is clear that the female author has once more gone too far.

Birgitta Boucht (born 1940) has been writing since 1975. With Märta Tikkanen (born 1935), she is an important feminist voice in contemporary Finland-Swedish literature, giving voice to female vulnerability, to social injustice, to the peace issue. She has also written easy reading books for the linguistically disadvantaged; she is a generous author who, with poetic intensity, shapes the vision that change is and ought to be possible.

Mariposa is a beautiful meta-fictional experiment that traces the mobility of the imagination and its power to change lives and perspectives. One wonders if the symbol of change par excellence, the scarab, may also be a woman; or is our culture eternally snared in the idea that the scarab’s capacity for self-perpetuation, resurrection and immortality is only a metaphor for male creativity?

At the same time Mariposa is a text that rises in revolt against the archetypal narrator, Sheherazade, as progenitor of the female narrative tradition: to remain in the existence of the imagination, narrative and kaleidoscope is a pseudo-life. Narratives should point outwards, back to reality.

‘Sheherazade sustains life, but she does so at the expense of reality. She has made me believe that one can hide oneself by means of stories. But one can’t. One can tell them, one can enjoy them, one can live in them for a long time. But at some point one must come out of them,’ Boucht says.

To read Mariposa is to become a butterfly and relative oneself; Roza, Melancholie, Artur and all the others could be my siblings and cousins. I read and flutter, quarrel, weep, laugh, and come back out into reality again. Such a strange family novel.


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