Land of Women, Maria Sánchez (Translated by Curtis Bauer). San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2022.
Summary: A rural field veterinarian in Spain gives voice to the lives of rural women and the places they inhabit.
Maria Sánchez is a field veterinarian who works in rural areas of Spain. Her father and grandfather were both veterinarians. She is the first women to be a veterinarian in her family. She recognizes the ways she has broken out of the patriarchal pattern, one followed by her mother and grandmother. One that has silenced the voices and muted the contributions of many women. This memoir seeks to give voice to their stories and their contributions, their hard work, the injustices done them, and their resilience.
The memoir begins with Maria going through the pictures of three grandparents that died, particularly her grandmother Theresa, once a sassy young woman. She realizes the women existed as ghosts, fulfilling the duties of sisters, wives, and mothers, often working hard around home and garden, the keepers of remedies whose stories are untold. Even in her own professions, all the pictures are of men with animals. Where are the women? They are under-represented in the statistics of agriculturalists. They are unheard, unseen. Only with the rise of feminism are they beginning to be celebrated.
Equally unknown is the rural environment where many of them have labored. The towns have been devalued by the greater cities, their stories untold. They become places to flee, even as the life of the land depends upon them. The stories of women and the rural towns are intertwined. For women, it is vital that it be understood that they are not “the daughter of, the sister of, the wife of” who “help.” They are persons with their own work. They help preserve a rural culture in danger of being lost.
Sánchez pays attention to words, collecting them like seeds. The names of the different trees, the plants gathered and stepped upon, the names of the animals, the birds. She believes we cannot love, and will not seek to preserve, what we do not know. To learn the stories, the words is to hear a people saying:
“We are alive and we are here.”
The second part of this work returns to three women in her genealogy, her great grandmother likened to the cork oak, her grandmother Carmen, likened to the garden, and her mother, the olive tree. She gives voice to their stories, the connections between them, connections that began before birth.
This is a beautiful book, weaving the stories of the women, rural lands, and the web of life they all inhabit. Sánchez remarks of how during her veterinary studies she would often be surrounded with works of literature while others would insist they were just into the science. This memoir reminds us that science just helps us understand and care well for what we love, for what has captured our imagination.
While she tells the story of rural women in Spain, one has the sense that this is a story that is transcultural. In so many of these countries, the stories have remained untold, the voices silenced, captured in the image of a woman who left a box of notebooks, all blank. In the mass migration to cities around the world, we are in danger of losing the stories of rural ways, the names of things. Maria Sánchez helps us hear them saying “we are alive and we are here.”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.