Catalina, A True Story

Written by Markus Orths (trans. Helen Atkins)
Review by Juliet Waldron

This novel was inspired by the autobiography of Catalina de Erauso, who was born in Basque country around 1592. Known in her own time as the Lieutenant Nun, Catalina begins life as the granddaughter of a man whose fortune flows from a single silver mine in what is today Bolivia. Catalina idolizes her older brother, Miguel, who is being groomed to become the overseer of the mine. When Miguel is sent to what he has been told is a tropical paradise, Catalina forms a plan to join him. First, she enters a nunnery where she will be educated. When an opportunity presents itself, she runs away, and manages to pass herself off as a young man. It takes years of study and inspired role playing to reach South America. When she does at last, in the guise of soldier, her search ends at the mountain of Potosi, whose mines are called “eaters of men,” and whose sides gleam with the skeletons of slaves. Lies, betrayal, illusion and disillusion are the stuff of Catalina, but it is also a page turner, a vivid recreation of history, and a treatise on the malleable nature of what we simplistically refer to as “the self.”