The Stone Maidens

Written by Ioulia Kolovou
Review by Carrie Callaghan

In 1948, a schoolteacher comes to Milagros Riquelme’s dusty village in rural Argentina for the first time. The young girl, whose family had once only aspired for her to work like her mother as a maid in the Big House, flourishes under the teacher’s instruction. Milagros studies and excels, and she has a chance to earn a scholarship to Buenos Aires. The wealthy family that dominates the town, however, does not embrace First Lady Eva (Evita) Perón’s public school plan, and Milagros’s pretty figure catches the eye of the family’s handsome young son. When Eva dies unexpectedly, the echoes resonate all the way to Milagros’s small town, changing her life forever.

The novel begins with the epigraph “At the end of the day, history is no more than an infinite succession of personal histories,” and Kolovou holds true to that promise. Milagros’s story winds through and between nearly a dozen other characters’ tales, some of whom flit onto the page for mere paragraphs, others who join her narrative for decades. Together they combine to paint a moving portrait of 20th-century Argentine life, with barely any references to headlining political events. This is history as lived by mere humans, each with their foibles and distractions and heartbreak.

Kolovou has chosen to skim over her characters’ headlining events, too, skipping the assaults and arrests and reunions. Instead, the story focuses on the before and after, the ripples glimmering across the pond, not the stones thrown. The result is an intimate, bittersweet journey—much like life.