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Reading: Borders and Butterflies in José Manuel Prieto’s Livadia/Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian...


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Research Article

Borders and Butterflies in José Manuel Prieto’s Livadia/Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire


Ilka Kressner

University at Albany, State University of New York, US
About Ilka
I am an Associate Professor of Spanish at UAlbany, SUNY. My scholarship and teaching examine Spanish American literature, film and visual arts (20th-21st centuries), from a variety of cultural and national contexts, often from a comparative perspective. I am interested in theoretical approaches to conceptions of space in art, intermediality, and ecocriticism. My book Sites of Disquiet: The Non-Space in Spanish American Short Narratives and Their Cinematic Transformations (Purdue UP, 2013) analyzes representations of alternative spaces, among those, sites of deferral, merging perspectives, darkness and emptiness, in Spanish American short narratives and their adaptations to the screen. I have co-edited Walter Benjamin Unbound (2015, special issue of Annals of Scholarship Vols. 21:1 and 2; together with Alexander Gelley and Michael Levine). My second joint publishing venture, with colleagues Ana María Mutis (Trinity U) and Elizabeth Pettinaroli (Rhodes C) is Ecofictions, Ecorealities and Slow Violence in Latin America and the Latinx World (Routledge, 2019). Our edited volume examines the topic of ecological violence, particularly in the context of “slow violence” (Rob Nixon; acts of violence that are invisible because they are dispersed across time and space) in Latin American and Latinx writings, films, visual arts and performances.
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In Cuban novelist José Manuel Prieto’s ‘Russian Trilogy’, and in particular, in the novel Livadia/Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire (1997), the experience of crossing borders and the reflection on how to pass safely, and often secretly, is vital. The geographical borders that take center stage are those of the former Soviet Union of the 1990s and adjacent Northern and Eastern countries as well as the Black Sea. In a first step, this essay examines the portrayals of changing borders, changing concepts of the border as well as the protagonist’s main strategies of border-crossing in the novel. In a second step, it explores the impact of a seemingly lighthearted metaphor, that of the butterfly and in particular its wings, to elucidate what I see as Prieto’s protagonist’s innovative approach of reacting to the experience of the border and his previous hyper-individualist attitudes when facing it. This experience is intrinsically linked to the role of writing and reading. Both hold a transcending potential for the narrator, as it is through acts of reading and reiterated attempts at writing that he begins to engage in a process of care for himself and others and devise transformative forms of being with others, even virtually, when a spatial or temporal separation prevents real encounters. His pondering on his previous restless crisscrossing of national confines may thus help, in the most fortunate moments, transcend spatial and conceptual confines and broaden what he calls the notion of an “imaginación aduanal.”
How to Cite: Kressner, I., 2021. Borders and Butterflies in José Manuel Prieto’s Livadia/Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire. Latin American Literary Review, 48(96). DOI:
Published on 03 Aug 2021.
Peer Reviewed


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