Felipe Montero, a young historian, accepts a live-in position, editing the memoirs of General Llorente, whose elderly widow, Consuelo, seeks their publication before her death. In the dark, enclosed house, filled with the perfumes of medicinal plants, Felipe dreams of sexual union, and escape, with the young beautiful niece, Aura; and he reads of Consuelo's infertility, her fantasy of medicinally creating a spiritual child, her delirium of walking toward her youth. Intoxicated by desire and the stifling atmosphere, Felipe embraces Aura, who transforms into the 109-year-old widow. Consuelo promises, "She will return, Felipe. Together, we will bring her back."


This novella, described as perfect in its narrative and thematic symmetry by the famous Mexican writer, Octavio Paz, explores the corporeality of aging, the eternalness of desire, and the struggle against mortality through childbirth, medicinals, memory, and narrative. The innovative narrative technique, using second person narration in the present and future tenses, heightens for the reader the sense of the peculiar amidst the familiar that characterizes the initial realistic entry into a story that grows more disarming, more fantastical, yet more psychologically real as it evolves towards its horrific conclusion. Not only is Aura revealed as a projection of Consuelo, who, in mourning her dead husband mourns herself, but Felipe is ensnared by his own desire and actions into the role of the General, coupled with Consuelo to give birth to "Aura," the breeze, the illusion of life.

The oblique telling of Consuelo's story, through excerpts (in French) from the General's memoirs, and myriad indirect influences on Felipe's actions and reactions, combine to give [Consuelo] a character with little voice and a minor perspective in the story, all the power. The masks of freedom, youth and immortality fall away, appearances and reality are confused, revealing the existential truths of desire and death.


First published: 1962. Translated by Lysandra Kamp.


Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux

Place Published

New York