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Spanish Lit Month: Tango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarría

July 24, 2016 20 comments

Tango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarría (2002) French title: Le rouge sur la plume du perroquet. Translated by Jacques-François Bonaldi. Original Spanish title: El rojo en la pluma del loro.

Chavarria_frenchTango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarría is my second read for Spanish Lit Month. I wonder why the English title isn’t the exact translation of the original one, like in French. It is actually The red on a parrot’s feather. It is a cryptic title but it is explained by the end of the book. I’ve had this one on the shelf for a while and Spanish Lit Month was a perfect opportunity to read it and contribute to Richard’s and Stu’s event and add to my #TBR20 project. A way to kill two parrots with one stone.

Aldo Bianchi is an Argentinean from the Italian diaspora in Argentina. He emigrated to Italy during the Argentinean dictatorship and now owns a profitable construction business in Italy. His business brings him to Cuba where he falls in lust with a voluptuous prostitute, Bini. She has a child’s mind in a woman’s body and Aldo appears to be infatuated. His friends Gonzalo and Aurelia are worried about him. They are also Argentinean and live near Aldo in Italy. They knew his ex-wife and his breakup and they are afraid to see Aldo in the claws of a gold digger who could never adjust to Aldo’s life and circle in Italy.

Aurelia organizes Gonzalo’s sixtieth birthday party in Cuba. Aldo attends the party with Bini who eventually meets his friends. But more importantly, he gets the confirmation that Alberto Ríos and Triple-O are one person. And Aldo has a score to settle with Triple-O. He wants justice for the past.

Indeed, Triple-O is from Uruguay and he was a sadistic torturer during the Uruguayan dictatorship and then moved his activities to Argentina. He was trained by the CIA and ran a sinister secret prison in Buenos Aires. He was a brutal torturer, taking pleasure in torturing and killing people. He’s now hiding in Cuba under a fake identity.

But Aldo recognizes him and will plan his revenge thoroughly to be sure he won’t miss him.

chavarria_englishTango for a Torturer unfolds Aldo’s plan to frame and catch Triple-O. It is a fantastic crime fiction novel with the reality of the Condor Operation and the Dirty Wars as a background. I only know the basics about the history of Latin America in the 1970s and early 1980s. There were useful footnotes in my paperback and I went to Wikipedia afterwards. Triple-O’s activities are true to life. The details are based upon what really happened even if the names are slightly changed. Chavarría is a former Tupamaro, he knows what he’s writing about.

The book is focused of Aldo’s plan but there are also a lot of descriptions of Triple-O’s life under his Alberto Ríos identity. When you know exactly the extent of Triple-O’s horrific actions, it is unsettling to see him live a normal life. He’s not remorseful at all and he lives a comfortable life out of the money he stole from his victims. All he cares about is being safe and healthy. He knows hitmen are after him for his past but he feels safe in Cuba and enjoys himself. On the contrary, Aldo stills suffers from the aftermath of the torture. He’s successful and rich but never recovered from his past. And honestly, how could he? And this difference in their peace of mind points out the injustice of it all or maybe just shows who’s the better human.

I read that Tango for a Torturer has the same frame as Le Comte de Monte Cristo, a book that Chavarría admires. I didn’t notice it, probably because Cuba is so far away from France that it never occurred to me to look for a French reference. But the two books do have similar storylines.

It could have been a bleak book but it’s not, probably because it is set in Cuba and the setting breathes life into the story. It prevents the book from becoming only a man hunt and a cold revenge. Bini’s character and her family bring Cuba into the plot. Bini is a bit of a scatterbrain. She loves to drive even if she doesn’t have a license and she has her way to make men lend her the wheel. She’s full of life, with no education or manners. She’s dirty poor, her parents didn’t give a damn about her and she had to fend for herself from a very young age. She enjoys sex, goes after men, after what she wants. She’s also very religious and Chavarría gives details about religious beliefs in Cuba. He also describes the landscape, the climate and Havana. All this contributes to turn the book into something more than a classic crime fiction novel.

This is a tremendous read. The plot is well-constructed, it’s educational, lively and it has a purpose. It made me want to read about the Dirty Wars and know more about what happened. It also means that here, in the pages of this crime novel, lies a memorial to all the innocent people who died and disappeared under these brutal dictatorships.

I owe this one to Guy (again!) and his review is here.

PS: This is the second time this year that I read a book linked to Argentina’s history. The other one was Three Horses by Erri de Luca.

 

Mafalda and me

July 3, 2012 28 comments

July is Spanish Literature Month at Caravana de Recuerdos and Winston’s Dad Blog. It’s an opportunity for me to write a billet about Mafalda. I’m not sure comics qualify as literature for this event but I suppose Richard and Stu will forgive me. Mafalda is the little girl you see on my gravatar and some of my personal posts.

She’s very famous in France and her albums are available in most bookshops. Her father is Quino, an Argentinean cartoonist. Quino’s comics were published from 1964 to 1973 in three different magazines or newspapers. (Primera Plan, El Mundo and Siete Dias Illustrados). Then Quino decided to put an end to it, thinking his concept was worn out.

Mafalda is a Charlie Brown with a strong political awareness. It’s a flavour of Argentina and the world in the 1960s. As a character, Mafalda is both a child and an adult. As a child, she goes to school, plays with friends and asks endless questions to her parents. She hates soup and Quino uses it as comical material. Once you see Mafalda sitting at the dinner table and when her mother brings her a plate full of soup, she tells her: “Perhaps it’s sad, Rachel, but in such cases Mom is barely a pseudonym”. This is Mafalda and her brother Guille:  

Mafalda:What are you doing with the phone, Guille?Guille:Me El CordobesMafalda: El Cordobes? Where’s the bull?

Her adult side tends to ask tricky questions to her poor father, make sarcastic remarks about the news and point out the adults’ inconsistencies and flaws. Living in the 1960s, she worries about the Cold War, the Vietnam War, peace in general and the state of the world in particular. 

Mother:What are you doing, Mafalda?Mafalda:Nothing, Mom. Just contemplating Humanity.Mother: Humanity?

Mafalda also shows a certain side of the Argentinean society and its evolution. Mafalda’s father buys a car (a 2CV) and the whole neighbourhood raves about it. Mafalda eventually gets a telly but soon criticizes the programs. She dances on the Beatles’ songs. Mafalda’s mother rants about price increases and her daughter pities her for being a stay-at-home mother, spending her days doing chores. (a nice touch of feminism) The family turtle is named Bureaucracy.

Mafalda’s friends are stereotypes: Susanita is obsessed with getting married, having children and settling down. She’s the conservative side, representing the bourgeoisie. Manolito’s goal in life is to make money and expand his father’s grocery store into a chain of supermarket. His model is American capitalism. Miguelito and Felipe are typical children. I have a fondness for Felipe. He’s a dreamer, reading comics with superheroes. He hates school and he’s the one to bring Mafalda back to childhood when she’s too absorbed by politics. Her games are tainted with political themes, like here:

Miguelito:What are you playing at?Mafalda: I’m Freedom, lightening the world with her light of … 15 Watts.

 All in all, with his regular pictures of the society he lives in, Quino managed to capture the essence of a time and spiced it with universal, poetic and philosophical comments. Like here: 

Mafalda:Good morning Sir. I would like you to make me the key of happiness.Old man:Of course, dear. Give me your template.Mafalda, leaving:Clever, the old man. 

I absolutely love Mafala for her sharp tongue, her cynicism, her lucidity. And did I mention it? It is FUNNY. Not stretch-a-smile funny but laughing-out-loud funny. So I was a bit puzzled when a friend asked me why I chose a chubby girl as an avatar. He thought I should have put the photo of a gorgeous model, since I didn’t put mine. But I’d rather be represented by this smart and funny little girl than by a living skeleton doing the cat walk on a stage for a living.

If you want to hear more about her, here is an article by Umberto Eco (sorry, it’s in French).

PS: I hope everything looks fine on your computer. It does on mine. I did my best

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