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Collection: INTERAMER
Number: 70
Year: 2001
Author: Rhonda Dahl Buchanan, Editora
Title: El río de los sueños: Aproximaciones críticas a la obra de Ana María Shua

The Outlandish Character

Composed of the two stories “Mis aventuras en el Polo Sur” and “Mis aventuras en el centro de la tierra,” Expedición al Amazonas focuses upon a nameless protagonist—the same in both stories—who narrates her adventures in the first person, presenting a one-sided conversation with the reader. Like Pippi Longstocking, the classic outlandish character of low fantasy literature, Shua’s narrator is brash, confident, and self-sufficient. Unlike the orphaned Pippi, Shua’s protagonist has a family consisting of parents, grandparents, and a younger sister, all of whom remain miraculously out of sight or indisposed whenever she embarks upon an adventure; yet they are present to welcome her home and show their love.

The protagonist’s adventures are born of her need to earn money for a cause. Far removed from the everyday desires for a bicycle, a tape, a school project/trip, our heroine wants to finance an expedition to the Amazon. Her first adventure consists of selling iceberg ice for use in iceboxes; the second, the construction of a tunnel to China, will promote a travel service. Of course the schemes fail. The icebergs melt before arriving to the waters of Buenos Aires. As for China, she never arrives, not because of the magma at the earth’s core that might melt her, but because she frees a brontosaurus from a subterranean cave and leads him up to her grandparent’s back yard.

Another animal acting with a child, the brontosaurus has no magical powers nor the characteristics of personhood. Instead it has a very passive role, providing brontosaurus rides for neighborhood children, eliciting not even a minimal show of fear or surprise from grandparents or neighbors. The whales who participate in the iceberg scheme, by pushing the bergs northward, are shown as helpful friends. One of them, a mother whose baby was saved by the heroine, nurtures the heroine during the trip: she furnishes sweet water saliva, a soft bed of her tongue, a skin flap blanket, and healthy, but not tasty, plankton dinners. The whales, too, remain whales, speaking their own language, spouting, traveling by gam.

Throughout the stories the protagonist exhibits great practicality and logic. She also proves that one can have adventures by oneself, requiring neither an adult guide nor an adult foil in comparison to whom she might exhibit her superiority. Unlike Pippi Longstocking, our protagonist does not require child companions to marvel at her independence, provide contrastive character models, or set in motion yet another episode.

This character, like Andrés and Gabriel mentioned earlier, shows a need for truth, albeit her own truth. With the refrain, “si no me creés,” she challenges the reader to check her story by examining the objects she has saved for this purpose—a piece of chocolate in the freezer from her food supply, a dried up piece of shark’s eyeball—or by consulting with authority figures, such as the Russian ship captain from Odessa or her own grandmother. Who would dispute a grandmother? The refrain “Si no me creés” becomes, therefore, a clever narrative ploy that places the burden of proof on the reader’s perceptions rather than the narrator’s veracity. By setting the stories in the not too distant past of the narrator’s childhood, Shua gives to a more world-knowledgeable reader possibilities that could have existed in a non-technological, non-jet, non-sophisticated era.

Finally Shua has her character use what little money she does earn (from the ice and the brontosaurus rides) to repay those she wronged in order to carry out her plan. Her grandmother receives a new diamond and new patio tiles, a store owner is reimbursed for the chocolates she took. No authority figure insists that she do this; it comes, rather, as a natural gesture.