On weekends, I like to grab a coffee from Balzacs and take a lazy stroll along Queen Street West for shopping, people watching and … more shopping. Tough life, I know. Often, I’ll stop at my favorite bookstore, Type Books to browse for a new read.
Months ago, I picked up The Buenos Aires Affair by Manuel Puig. I found the book’s description intriguing. The fact that the author was endorsed by accomplished writer and recent Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa sealed the deal. Llosa says, “Puig’s work is among the most original of the final years of the 20th century.”
For whatever reason, I just never got around to reading the book. It collected dust in my bookcase, along with a pile of other books I’d yet to read. After coming home from Eastern Europe in December with even more books, I was resolved to start reading more. I’ve been a bookworm ever since! It fits my goal to watch less TV and read more books.
Last week while packing for my vacation to Cuba, I decided to take The Buenos Aires Affair with me. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. I stayed up late more than one night wanting to get in an extra chapter or two before nodding off to sleep. It was that good.
Why is this book so good? Why is it an “affair to remember“? Let’s start with the plot:
Manuel Puig’s masterful and ironic “detective novel” concerns the abduction of a woman, an impending murder, and the dim memories of a thousand old glamour queens – Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth – all combining to make a powerful portrait of two decidedly unglamorous lives: Gladys Hebe D’Onofrio, a lonely 35 year old sculptor, tormented by her fantasies and perpetually in search of an ideal lover; and Leo Druscovich, an outwardly confident and successful art critic, deeply troubled by a terrible guilt that surfaces in his repeated sexual failures. Taking on, exchanging, and growing into the roles of victim and criminal, their lives presented through various types of “evidence” – lists, scribbled notes, transcripts, one-sided interrogations – these two souls gradually find themselves entirely dependent on one another … and heading toward precisely the sort of violent ending a detective novel demands.
If the plot description isn’t enough to entice you to read this book, the author’s literary genius will.
Puig writes with an usual style that delivers an intense reading experience. He uses 14 different narrative styles in the novel, from stream of consciousness to internal monologues to one sided telephone conversations written in short-hand.
Robert Alter of the NY Times wrote of Puig’s style “All this is not just technical trickery because a narrative technique, certainly as Puig handles it, is a way of defining and making available for experience a human reality that would be inaccessible from other narrative angles.”
Scott Esposito commented in his essay about the book “Yet Puig was not writing esoteric texts meant solely for litterateurs. These novels’ widespread use of popular culture—including American movies and Argentine tangos—as well as their meticulous and engrossing storylines marked Puig as an author who embraced the middle class as both a subject of and an audience for his writing.”
Interestingly enough, Puig’s book also had a profound impact to Argentinian culture at the time of being published.
As The Buenos Aires affair is heavily laden with strong anti-Perón sentiments and so called “perverse” sexual themes, it was banned in Argentina and officially labeled as pornography in 1974 (even though it had sold 15,000 copies in it’s first 3 weeks in bookstores). Publishing another book that was considered even more controversial in 1976, he left the country fearing for his life.
Esposito concludes that Puig is one of “Argentina’s boldest and most innovative writers” and that his book is “a beautiful and captivating work of art. ”
I wholeheartedly concur.
See what others have to say about this book.
- Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Buenos-Affair-Biblioteca-Bolsillo-Spanish/dp/8432230316
- Barnes and Noble – http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Reviews-Essays/The-Buenos-Aires-Affair/ba-p/3175
- NY Times Book Review – http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/08/13/specials/puig-buenos.html
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