New Review concerning Insectual by Ruba Abu Ali of www.onlinebookclub.org - September 2018
Chapter 17, Part II
What an attention-seizing title!” was my first thought when I laid my eyes on this book. What’s “Insectual?” What’s “The Secret of the Black Butterfly?” Not just yet! Everything unfolds near the end of the book, and suddenly it all makes sense.
Insectual, The Secret of the Black Butterfly by Barbara Sala captured me right from the start with Sala’s unique writing style. She uses the first-person narrative of Maya, the heroine, to describe her struggle with sex repulsion albeit having no problem falling in love. Maya mostly recounts events of the past using the present tense. She starts off by setting the grounds for the reader to know how she sees lovemaking. She also calls herself a sexual cripple. Why was she frigid? Why was she repulsed by sex?
Short of 300 pages, Maya’s journey spans three continents, starting from her childhood in Nazi Germany, to the civil war in the Ex-Belgian Congo, where she worked for the United Nations in the 60s and married her husband until she reached Montreal, Canada in 1974. She was an introvert suffering from sex anxiety and guilt, which she often referred to as the “devil”. Her husband, Lorenzo, a handsome Italian, was an extrovert who slept around. In her narration, Maya goes back and forth between her childhood in the Alps, her married life in the Congo, and the psychiatrist’s office in Montreal.
Over many years of psychotherapy, she undressed her mind and revealed her thoughts, fears, and feelings to her psychiatrist. She documented her memories and the details of her sessions in the numerous journals she kept to herself. Will she ultimately succeed in her quest for liberation from her sexual dysfunction? Will she be able to dig down into her childhood and get to the core of her problem? Will she be able to regain her self-autonomy?
The premise behind the book is alluring, for it combines fictionalized biography, psychological thriller, spiritual quest, and to a lesser extent historical fiction. I especially enjoyed the author’s writing style, which is rich in creative metaphors. Just look how she expresses herself when she’s terrified,” My thoughts are galloping like a horde of frightened elephants running in all directions.” Also during labor, she says,” Suddenly, I felt my womb open up like a lotus flower at dawn.” Moreover, in her depiction of nature and the scenery, she creates charming visual images and a realistic feel to her words, which makes you almost touch and smell the breeze of the Alps as you stretch your arm in the blowing wind!
The narration oscillates smoothly between different subjects, themes, times, and places. Largely symbolic, the drawings at the beginning of each chapter provide a glimpse into Maya’s train of thoughts. Barbara Sala, a renowned naïve painter herself, intertwines the black and white drawings with the words, to offer a deeper understanding of Maya’s feelings and her inner turmoil.
I related to Maya’s character and found her to be raw and real. You can’t but notice the striking honesty and the straightforwardness in the way she expresses herself. That being said, I was bewildered at times as to whether all her hardships emanated from the incidents of her childhood and from her husband, or were they partially due to her own “rumination”, as she calls it and her self-torture?
The only thing I thought had room for minute improvement was the dialogue, to stand up to the level of the rest of the text.
A particular highlight for me was the set of twists near the end of the book. They came as a revelation of the cause for her sex repulsion, the childhood memories that were blocked for so long, and the dire consequences of giving herself and her trust to someone who might have been unworthy.
Maya has been a sturdy warrior through it all. The difficult psychological journey she went through and the hurdles she overcame allowed her to explore herself and to unleash the potential that was for so long dormant within. The literary style of this book, the genuine and heartfelt content, and the professional editing oblige me to gladly rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I noticed a single typographical error and a few extra spaces between the words, which by no means detracted from the overall reading experience.
I recommend Insectual, The Secret of the Black Butterfly to those interested in a gripping reading adventure woven in a colorful language. People intrigued by the process of psychoanalysis will be satisfied with the inside details of Maya’s psychotherapy sessions. It will also appeal to readers who enjoy autobiographies and those who find inspiration in overcoming difficulties and seeking the truth. Those interested in “naïve art” will find her drawings a pleasure to the eyes and mind. Just be aware, it's better to approach this book by a mature audience due to the presence of adult content and the warnings for abuse.
When Barbara Sala started writing her book, she was a mother of two teenagers; now she is a grandmother of five and carries on with her creative journey which started during psychotherapy. She puts her heart out in Maya’s words, “ I want my diary to represent the absolute truth, to record as closely as possible what was said, even if it is shameful, embarrassing, unspeakable.”
With these words, I consummate our session for today!
Chapter 5, Part III