Dreams are a confluence of lifefragments, swelling and dissolving in waves, perpetually on the verge of meanings. What in Physics is called ‘potential energy,’ I refer to as ‘potential meaning,’ the maximum of which is dreaming.
The Fifth Wound, pg 34
There is so much to like about this book even as it is painful to witness Mattia’s journey. It is also confusing at times which might be by design because life, itself, is so confusing. The prepublication material describes this book as a love story between Aurora and Ezekiel. Both Ezekiel and Aurora begin by describing themselves as “fairies.” Ezekiel remains so, Aurora transitions. She calls herself a tgirl or a transgirl.
Mattia leads a life that refuses to be boxed into any “norm.” The vulnerable wounds that she collects as she navigates this challenging path are both internal and external. Ezekiel and Aurora know and love each other both before and after Mattia’s gender confirmation surgery. It takes some work to understand the hardships of those who don’t fit into societies’ norms; these are norms that too often float through our consciousness often without our even being aware. I believe that wrestling with such issues expands our humanity and for this (but not this alone), The Fifth Wound is an important book.
The question, that this book brings up and I kept returning to as I read is this: How does a person live as an authentic whole person in a world that rarely can see us and then when it does, rejects who we are, often violently?
As Aurora explores her world, you can see her struggling to cope (or not) in a world that is filled with threats to the transgender community, a medical landscape that doesn’t understand or possibly care about her specific medical issues and then the traumas of extreme violence, both internal and external.
Although the five wounds Aurora describes, actually six, happen to her body, you can see them engraved on her soul. As I said, it is painful to witness. But looking away is not an option either as we all share a world that inflicts such wounds.
Mattia’s writing style also takes work but as I settled into it, I was inspired by the fluidity of the words. Her style is lively (living) and manages to engage the reader with all manner of sensory input. That is a writer’s dream to be able to accomplish. It is poetic and it is brutally honest.
Mattia takes us from flights of fantasy that span distances from mythic images to feelings in her own body. The insights come fast and furious. For clarity in the space of a blogpost, I am going to only focus on one of her many life experiences. Actually, two connected ones. It begins with her confirmation surgery surgeon, Anastasia. Mattia has a mixed mind about the process, the reality versus how surgery works in real time and real life. [The “her” in this passage is Anatasia.]
Surgery shares materials with weaving and with sculpting, but it also shares materials with wounding and with living. Transsexuality shares surgeries with celebrity. For her I am half material, half muse; for me she is demiurge, despot and savior. (pg 142)
Mattia goes on to write about the effect of the anesthesia from her operation.
But I have never felt her blade, except as a latter-day twinge. Anesthesia erased the pain of surgery, but with the pain went consciousness. My memory holds no record of my most acute hours of embodiment. Those hours belong to Anastasia, to the visceral memory of her gestures and the spiritual memory of her benedictions.
This led to a particularly acute betrayal when Anastasia would not come to the hospital when Mattia was in grave need. She had been sexually assaulted and her vaginal stitches were torn to such a degree that she was hemorrhaging and in severe pain. At the hospital, the doctors were unable to comprehend her situation asking repeatedly if her periods were normally this heavy.
This is her description of the hospital experience:
Later I was approached by another doctor. Then maybe another, or maybe a nurse. Or maybe there was only one? Or maybe a couple of nurse and a couple doctors but never the same one, so I kept it simple; one after another, I told them: “I am a transgender woman (male to female).” “I had a vaginoplasty/bottom surgery two years ago.” “Tonight, I was injured while having vaginal sex.” “I am in the worst pain of my life.” “My friend has the number of my surgeon.”
And one after another, they asked whether I was on my period.
“I don’t have a uterus,” I said. (page 149)
Harrowing! I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be in dire medical need and find only blank looks and medical personnel incapable or unwilling to understand the nature of my needs. I can’t. As a result of this, the doctors didn’t give her pain medication and life-saving treatment was delayed.
Mattia has a unique writing style. For example, at the beginning she write this:
Ezekiel wasn’t a man when I met him, and I was not a woman. We shared what could be called a gender, but what I like to call atmosphere, whipped up slowly as we rowed the air, gesturing, glossolaling, the palms of our hands, rising and falling as firm and graceful as oars.
To put it simply, we were both fairies. (page29)
There is a poetry there that suggests and reveals so many layers of meanings. But, I must admit, I struggled with the meaning of some of the words including “fairy.” I asked members of my own family in the LGBTQ+ community. I checked out urban dictionaries. I received many different definitions. Finally I wrote to the publishers agent and got this reply:
“The way Aurora uses the term “fairy” throughout the book is a (re)invention of its complicated history, paired alongside the biblical references, and the fable-like quality of the work. I don’t think there’s one concrete answer, which is in part what makes Aurora’s vision so exciting.”
I agree that (re)invention is exciting because it means that language is flexible and living. And Mattia embodies that in multiple layers that are poetic, mystic and heartrending. Her words are fluid enough to move. But language is also meant to express thoughts and if a reader doesn’t understand the terminology, subtleties get lost. I do feel like I missed some aspects. I would have liked a glossary of terms.
All in all, I highly recommend this book. It is unique, personal and touching.
THE FIFTH WOUND will be published on March 7 by Nightboat Books. You can pre-order it here.
BIO: Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written three books: When Moses Was a Shaman, When Eve Was a Goddess, (now available in Spanish, Cuando Eva era una Diosa), and One Gods. I have two books that will be released this year. Cuando Moses era un CUANDO MOISÉS ERA UN SHAMÁN and my autobiography, Desperately Seeking Persephone.
2 thoughts on “The Fifth Wound by Aurora Mattia, Book Review by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”
Oh my! Sounds like a powerful book. This: “Harrowing! I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be in dire medical need and find only blank looks and medical personnel incapable or unwilling to understand the nature of my needs.” I think this “brick wall” feeling happens with those who find themselves in dire need of mental health resources as well. Am navigating that space with a relative right now. It’s upsetting and more than frustrating. Thanks for reviewing this book. Quite timely!
What an incredible review of what appears to be an incredibly complex book – kudos to you!!!!
But it is the question you ask that stays with me – how dues one live an authentic self directed life and endure the rejection – often violent…. Is this why so many hide out behind “ have a nice day” and other superficialities?
Isn’t the fear of witnessing another’s pain behind some of this denial? Because witnessing for another will also bring us around to our own?
Incredible clear succinct writing Janet… you amaze me again and again