In 1926 a young Peruvian woman picked up a gun, wrested her infant daughter from her husband, and liberated herself from the constraints of a patriarchal society. Magda Portal, a poet and journalist, would become one of Latin America’s most successful and controversial politicians. In this richly nuanced portrayal of Portal, historian Myrna Ivonne Wallace Fuentes chronicles the dramatic rise and fall of this prominent twentieth-century revolutionary within the broader history of leftist movements, gender politics, and literary modernism in Latin America.
An early member of bohemian circles in Lima, La Paz, and Mexico City, Portal distinguished herself as the sole female founder of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA). A leftist but non-Communist movement, APRA would dominate Peru’s politics for five decades. Through close analysis of primary sources, including Portal’s own poetry, correspondence, and other writings, Most Scandalous Woman illuminates Portal’s pivotal work in creating and leading APRA during its first twenty years, as well as her efforts to mobilize women as active participants in political and social change. Despite her successes, Portal broke with APRA in 1950 under bitter circumstances. Wallace Fuentes analyzes how sexism in politics interfered with Portal’s political ambitions, explores her relationships with family members and male peers, and discusses the ramifications of her scandalous love life.
In charting the complex trajectory of Portal’s life and career, Most Scandalous Woman reveals what moves people to become revolutionaries, and the gendered limitations of their revolutionary alliances, in an engrossing narrative that brings to life Latin American revolutionary politics.