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How does someone experience things from the viewpoint of the other sex? It is this question that has led to Guillem Vildot’s creation of Ruth , the genre-defining story of a sex change told by the protagonist through a series of letters to an anonymous friend. Demonstrating the sentimental and intellectual intimacy of a man transitioning into a woman, Ruth describes a profound, touching process in which frustrations, ideas of liberty, and changes of identity are interwoven. Without descending into easy morbidity or sensationalism, Viladot expresses his indignation at the limitations of both masculine and feminine sensibilities, while championing diversity of thought, love, liberty, and, most importantly, desire.

120 pages, Paperback

Published November 15, 2022

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Guillem Viladot

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Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 reviews
Profile Image for David.
263 reviews547 followers
October 16, 2022
Ruth presents an ethical dilemma that can arise in translated literature - what to do with older works that offend today's sensibilities. Originally published posthumously after the death of Catalan writer Guillem Viladot in 1999, Ruth is an epistolary novel that chronicles the gender transition of the tragic character Ruth. In its original context, the book was surely a novelty. Very few readers in 1999 would have been acquainted with the real-life struggles of a trans person and very few writers - whether cis or trans - would have dared to pen such a novel. Viladot was a cis man, it would seem, and although Ruth is portrayed sympathetically, negative tropes abound, including a fundamental questioning of Ruth's mental stability. The dilemma is what to do about this book in 2022, a book that would not (and should not) be published if it were written today. An argument can be made for letting it collect dust on a forgotten shelf of Catalan fiction, fading away into obscurity. Publisher Fum D'Estampa and translator P. Louise Johnson have made the brave decision to bring this into English. The novel is something of a milestone of trans fiction, for better or worse, so it may well be the case that its translation will prove valuable for historians or others with an academic interest. I'm a bit at a loss about what I think about it. I think I'm tentatively of the view that its translation is a net positive for the world. Yet I also recognize that I am not a vulnerable person with respect to its existence. If nothing else, its sheer tone deafness is a testament to where the world stood not that long ago.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,211 followers
November 5, 2022
‘I wanted a boy,’ she murmurs weakly. ‘I had a boy, I wanted a man..., women are chaff, just an instrument for men, a refuge for their lust, the exile of the human condition. And what is your name, daughter?’


Ruth is P. Louise Johnson's translation of the 2000 novel of the same name by Guillem Viladot, published after his death in 1999.

The novel opens with an encounter with a painter and his family at the Espai Guinovart art centre in Lleida (taken from longer extract at https://www.fumdestampa.com/fde-diary...

Amid the melee of guests, I caught sight of a couple about my age accompanied by a young woman who couldn’t have been more than twenty. As they made their way towards me, I realised it was Ivars the painter, and his wife. We hadn’t met for years and greeted each other warmly.

‘Do you know our daughter?’ he asked pointedly.
‘I’m not sure I’ve had the pleasure.’
‘When you met her, she was our son…’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘She used to be Raül, or still is, but she wants to be Ruth, which is why she’s dressed as a female. We’re in a process of transition.’

I must have looked utterly confused because my friend Ivars straightaway clarified, ‘She wants to change sex and name.’

Ivars’ wife started crying as I had to stop myself blurting out, ‘What, just like that?’
‘It’s been really difficult, you know, we’re struggling to cope.’

Meanwhile, Ruth, formerly Raül, was smiling at me. Her father seemed nervous. Once I’d recovered my composure, I observed the girl in front of me carefully. She was extremely pretty, bright eyes, a perfect oval face, shapely lips and long mahogany-tinted hair. She was slim, and her fingers were long and delicate. What most aroused my curiosity was her skin, and her face in particular. I was so taken by it that in a move most unlike me, I asked her: ‘Do you mind?’ And without waiting for an answer, I stroked her cheek with my right hand.

The rest of the novel consists of 37 letters from Ruth to the narrator of the first section (I assumed from the above they were male, but reading back I don't think this is made clear) as Ruth transitions but also begins her artistic career as a sculptor, with the two linked in the novel's framework as acts of creation and also violation. This from a sculptor who makes the pre-operation Ruth the subject of his masterwork, and supports her in her transition, but is shocked by the post-op reality:

‘No! No! No!’ He rubs his eyes with the heel of his hands and looks again, this time with curiosity. ‘What have you done? Who’s responsible for this sacrilege? The daughter of the gods has profaned the sanctuary of her perfection, the daughter of paradise has sinned and deserted her beauty...’ He is quiet briefly and then shouts, ‘This is an outrage!’ He falls to his knees and starts weeping. ‘Now you’re just a common girl like all the girls in this ugly world. You’ve betrayed me, you’ve broken your word... the isles of fortuity no longer navigate your skin, the landscape of your body has lost the silence of timelessness and now recites futility in gulps.’

Words keep coming from his mouth as he approaches the sculpture. He stops within touching distance and sets to work feverishly. As he turns his back, I put my clothes on and head towards the door. Before I get there he walks up and grabs my arm roughly. ‘I don’t need you anymore,’ he says. ‘The divinity that you once were will be immortalised for eternity in the bronze this will become.’ And then half-hissing, half-shouting, he commands, ‘Get out!’

This is a lesson, in spite of its violence: art is an act of love. This I learn when I see that I’ve destroyed the artist’s love object, when I witness the strength of his reaction, his grief. He tries to find some consolation in the permanence of my former likeness. As I leave I’m convinced that I’ll never set foot in his studio again. But when I’m a sculptor, perhaps I won’t be so far away. Will I be capable of such uncompromising devotion to my art?

The novel was apparently groundbreaking at the time (and actually in the Anglo-world Eugenides Middlesex was published in 2003), but it is hard for the reader in 2022 to escape the fact that this is a novel written by a (I believe) male cishet author, rather than rooted in lived experience, and that, if anything, it takes at times a rather binary view of gender

It also presents an idealised, artistic, vision of the experience of transitioning. Other than Ruth's vituperative mother, and some brief double-take type reactions from strangers, everyone is very accepting, including various lovers. For example when Ruth, as Raül, is called up for National Service and presents as a woman, after some initial sniggering and cat-calling, the Service Board are in practice highly accommodating and provide her an exemption. And Ruth's transition and artistic career are facilitated by her wealthy and well-connected father, despite his wife's hostility.

However, in the closing pages of the novel Ruth descends into psychosis, convinced her artworks have sold for vast sums, and the reader might question how much of the earlier idealised account was actually true. And that none of the letters suggests any sort of dialogue with the recipient indicates that no replies were received, and perhaps suggests that they weren't ever sent.

The translator wrote a paper on the book Art at the Biomedical Interface: Trans/Sculptural Discourses in Guillem Viladot’s Ruth and the precis of that does suggest both that the book itself is perhaps more relevant as an indicator of its times and also that it treats transgender issues and transitioning more from an academic perspective:

The short epistolary novel Ruth by Guillem Viladot was published posthumously in 2000 and received only brief press mention, in spite of its singular treatment of the subject of transsexuality which set it apart within the Catalan and Spanish literary panorama of the time. The portrayal of the psychological and emotional struggle experienced by the artist and sculptor Ruth before and after surgery, is heavily inflected by Viladot’s interest in Lacanian psychoanalysis, and runs in parallel with a discourse on the process of artistic creation. This article examines the way in which art functions as a metaphor for an alternative endpoint (or at least outcome) of transitioning, which is ultimately more optimistic than the reality confronted by Ruth as she slides into psychosis. Drawing on the recent work of psychoanalyst Oren Gozlan which seeks to understand transsexuality as a creative act, the article argues that Viladot is prescient in seeing the possibilities in aesthetic discourse for our understanding of sexual difference and identity. At the same time, with reference to Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides and its criticism, it underscores the contemporary relevance of the novel in questioning the still dominant sex/gender binary and cultural backwardness characteristic of debates around transsexuality.

I'm ultimately not quite sure what to make of this. 2.5 stars
Profile Image for Robert.
1,999 reviews195 followers
December 4, 2022
I remember reading an interview of Bernardine Evaristo, in which she was asked whether an author can write whatever they want, in the context the interviewer meant if a white person can write about the black experience. To which, Evaristo answered that an author can write whatever they like. Using this philosophy then Guillem Viladot’s posthumous novel, Ruth is acceptable.

The book is about a transwoman, Ruth and her struggles with every aspect of her transitioning: first realising that she is a woman, then her problems with the army, students, lovers and eventually her parents, mainly getting her mother to accept her. The controversy lies in that Viladot was a cis male and may not have be able to fully be able to write about the trans experience.

Told in the form of 37 letters this novella does hit an emotional core, well at least to me, a cis male who knows nothing about this topic, save for novels. I enjoyed reading about Ruth trying to battle it out against society.

On reading an interview with the translator, I found out that Viladot struggled a lot with the Catalan army during his early days as writer due to his works being confiscated, thus Ruth is a metaphor for his problems, which does explain why the army is subject to the more vicious jabs in the book. Ruth is an underdog but does manage to conquer all her adversaries in the end as she does manage to find a job and gain acceptance.

Apparently Ruth was quite a shocker when it was published in Spain 22 years ago. Nowadays with actual trans authors writing about their experiences, Ruth may not have that impact, but nonetheless it still is a fascinating read and could be seen as a pioneering piece of trans fiction.

Profile Image for Judit Bernaus.
16 reviews
January 22, 2023
he llegit aquest llibre pel meu TFG. la veritat, crec que si no haguès sigut pel treball, no l’haguès triat per llegir de bones a primeres. però estic contenta d’haver-ho fet perquè al final m’ha agradat força més del que esperava.
certament al principi em costava bastant ja que no coincidia amb moltes de les coses que deia la Ruth (força masclistes) i em ficava MOLT nerviosa llegir-les. però la Ruth creix i aprèn al llarg del llibre. així que avançar la lectura de cada carta ha fer que m’anès agradant més el llibre i la protagonista. el final del llibre m’ha deixat perplexa i m’agrada.
molt fort l’anàlisi psicològic que fa Guillem Viladot en aquesta obra. semblaria que hauria d’estar escrita per algú que ha viscut aquesta situació o una similar. resulta que no. força fort.
apart de la psicologia dels personatges, m’ha encantat el format epistolar només d’una direcció i la poètica en el llenguatge de la Ruth en les cartes.
Profile Image for Eva Maza.
184 reviews15 followers
December 19, 2022

Enguany es commemora el centenari del naixement de l'artista agramuntí Guillem Viladot i la Biblioteca d'Artesa de Segre va dedicar-li una sessió del seu Club de Lectura. Van llegir Ruth, i aquest és el comentari que els vaig passar jo després de la meva lectura:

Aquest migdia he acabat de llegir Ruth de Guillem Viladot, i com que és l'últim llibre que heu llegit del Club de Lectura us deixo les meves impressions aquí.

M'ha semblat un llibre que transmet molt bé, i d'una manera fins i tot poètica, totes les confusions i inseguretats que sent la Ruth en aquest procés de canvi de sexe. He patit amb ella i he sentit també aquest garbuix d'emocions.

No sé quins poden ser els sentiments reals d'aquestes persones però a mi m'han semblat del tot realistes i creïbles. Les pors, els dubtes, el caos mental...

El fet que sigui una novel·la epistolar (encara que unidireccionalment) crec que ajuda a que sigui una lectura pausada i que permet anar paint tot allò que explica a cada carta.

M'ha agradat força i sobta que, amb els anys que fa que està escrita, sigui un tema plenament actual.

A vosaltres us va agradar?.

I aquestes són les resposates d'alguns membres del Club de Lectura:

"Penso que és un tema molt interessant. Conec persones que estan en aquesta situació i, realment, és molt dur pels afectats".

"Molt bon punt de vista Eva. Hi estic força d'acord! 🤗".

"A mi m'ha agradat força! I trobo que està mollt ben escrit. I el final preciós".

Si voleu conèixer una mica més a Guillem Viladot, podeu consultar la seva vida i l'obra aquí.


Este año se conmemora el centenario del nacimiento del artista de Agramunt Guillem Viladot, y la Biblioteca d'Artesa de Segre le dedicó una sesión de su Club de Lectura. Leyeron Ruth, y este es el comentario que les pasé yo después de mi lectura:

Este mediodía he acabado de leer Ruth de Guillem Viladot y como es el último libro que habéis leído del Club de Lectura os dejo mis impresiones aquí.

Me ha parecido un libro que transmite muy bien, y de una manera hasta poética, todas las confusiones e inseguridades que siente Ruth en este proceso de cambio de sexo. He sufrido con ella y he sentido también este lío de emociones.

No sé cuales pueden ser los sentimientos reales de estas personas pero a mi me ha parecido realistas y creíbles. Los miedos, las dudas, el caos mental...

El hecho que sea una novela epistolar (aunque sea de manera unidireccional) creo que ayuda a que sea una lectura pausada y que permite ir asumiendo todo lo que explica en cada carta.

Me ha gustado mucho y sorprende que, con los años que hace que está escrita, sea un tema actual.

¿A vosotr@s os gustó?

Y estas son las respuestas de algunos de los miembros del Club:

"Pienso que es un tema muy interesante. Conozco personas que están en esta situación y, realmente, es muy duro para los afectados".

"Buen punto de vista, Eva. Estoy muy de acuerdo!

"A mi me ha gustado mucho! Me parece que está muy bien escrito. Y el final es precioso".

Si queréis conocer un poco más a Guillem Viladot, podéis consultar su vida y obra aquí.
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