Review – Summer 2015 issue of Letras Femeninas, A Journal of Women and Gender Studies in Hispanic Literature and Culture

Alborg, Concha. Divorce After
Death: A Widow’s Memoir. Lexington,
KY: Shorehouse Books, 2014. 174 pp.

Concha Alborg’s Divorce After
Death: A Widow’s Memoir is powerful
in its own right. It can also be read as
a scathing postscript, or disheartened
sequel, to the author’s American in
Translation: A Novel in Three Novellas
(2010). The earlier work narrates the
life of a Spanish immigrant fnding her
way in the United States as a teenager
and later as a military wife and young
mother during the Vietnam War. The
woman who speaks in this work is an
independently minded feminist who
earns a doctorate, becomes an equally
independent divorcée, and optimistically
enters into a second marriage.
In Divorce After Death, the protagonist
has matured into a successful, middleaged
academic faced not only with the
tragic death of her beloved husband
but also with the shocking discovery
of her late husband’s numerous extramarital
afairs. Regardless of whether
one approaches it as autobiographical
narrative, personal essay or memoir,
this intimate work remains decidedly
confessional in tone, atesting to deepseated
and often conficting emotions
regarding the author-protagonist’s
complicated interpersonal relationships.
The somewhat fragmented text,
composed of ffteen distinct yet markedly
interrelated sections (in addition
to a preface and an epilogue),
refects the protagonist’s emotional
upheavals as she undergoes various
stages of grief followed by an intense
numbness as she absorbs the news of
her life partner’s infdelity. The early
chapters, writen as her late husband
batled cancer, focus on coping with
the untimely loss of a spouse, complicated
in the author’s case by the illness
and death of a beloved aunt.
As the work begins, the authorprotagonist
waits in a hospital room
while her husband undergoes his frst
surgical intervention and refects on
Narrativa, poesía, teatro, cine
her diverse roles as immigrant, wife,
professor and now, that of primary
care-giver to a sick partner. Following
her partner’s death, however, the
memoir quickly takes a dramatic shift
in focus. In a climactic chapter that
gives the book its title, the author reproduces
a leter she wrote to her then
late husband where she expressed her
profound sense of disillusionment,
humiliation and anger at the discovery
of his infdelities. The accusatory
leter is both an anguished lament (primarily
voiced through a series of rhetorical
questions) and a justly angry
demand for a divorce “after death”.
In the leter, Alborg vows to move on
with her life, fnding some vindication
in the fact that her late husband will
not have that option. The remainder
of the book recounts wise and often
wity episodes of her various eforts
to fnd herself yet again.
In his brief review of Alborg’s
book, included in the fnal pages of
the memoir, Carlos Rojas considers
that the note Alborg claims to have
left at the Wailing Wall forgiving her
husband is an important moment
in the narrative. This may be so, yet
more important than forgiveness for
the author is her need to move forward.
Inspired by Joan Didion despite
the important diferences in their
circumstances, Alborg refuses to become
trapped in nostalgic memories.
It is her defance, more than her forgiveness
that marks a critical turning
point in her recovery.
Although the book is clearly a
memoir, the seamless interplay between
the narrative of personal life
experiences and the author’s interest
in refecting on cultural and linguistic
norms remains an important subtext
of Divorce After Death. A case in point:
the seemingly simple and mundane
task of creating an online profle for
an internet dating site raises existential
doubts and inspires serious selfrefection.
Similarly, although writen entirely
in English, Divorce After Death
frequently compares subtle nuances
between the author-protagonist’s
adopted language and their Spanish
equivalent. These might at frst appear
to be interspersed casually, in the guise
of a stream-of-consciousness narrative
technique. When meditating on her
current status she notes that she hates
the word “widow” but fnds the Spanish
“viuda” “equally foreboding” (88).
Similarly, as she searches for a translation
to the phrase: “a la deriva” she
fnds no adequate equivalent: “I try to
translate it to English, but it doesn’t
do it justice; adrift. In some ways I’m
still anchored” (88). Not coincidentally,
the implied author’s judicious
choice of vocabulary often remains
overt, as does a self-refexive hesitation
regarding the decision to publish
her memoir in English: “I should be
writing this in Spanish since political
correctness is less strict in my native
language. We can still say la gorda, la
rubia, la negra, and nothing happens”
(25). As the author-protagonist looks
ahead to her next literary project—a
work that will be based on leters exchanged
between her parents during
the Spanish Civil War—she concludes,
“it means that I have to go back
to writing in Spanish. It’s interesting
how to change my language is similar

Letras femeninas 41.1 I Reseñas
to changing my life” (169). Signifcantly,
these admissions make apparent
her passion for verbal communication
in general and the writing craft in particular
even as they highlight the intimate
connection between language
and personal identity.
Other cultural meditations include
refections on growing up in
Franco’s Spain, food and internet dating.
Alborg’s travels in Latin America
give rise to yet another series of meditations
and conficted emotions. A trip
to Bolivia and Peru involving university
representatives on a cultural immersion
program becomes a way of
“taking responsibility for one’s historical
past (…) to witness and refect
on the contributions and the mistakes
my country has made” (52).
Divorce After Death: A Widow’s
Memoir is indeed a bitersweet and
very personal meditation on loss, betrayal
and re(dis)covery. Yet with its
blurring of memoir and essay, the
work is also a testament of intellectual
generosity and a sustained interest in
delving into the complex territory of
personal, cultural and linguistic identity
and diference.

Janis Breckenridge
Whitman College