Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa - the Peruvian writer in the Language of Passion

Great novels never actually seem to tell us anything; rather, they make us live it and share in it by virtue of their persuasive powers. This is what Mario Vargas Llosa advises to aspiring writers in his book ¨Letters to a young novelist¨. He has lived upto his advice in his novels. The proof is me. His novels, among other factors, have persuaded me to become ¨Passionate about Latin America¨. I have read most of his novels, essays and his autobiography. I have lived the lives of his characters and loved the virtual world created in his books. They have made a profound impact on me alongwith the works of other Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Julia Alvarez, Alvaro Mutis and Isabel Allende. These authors have put their spell of magical realism on me and I am happy to continue as a willing victim of the charms of Latin America.

I had been telling friends that Llosa is my favourite Latin American author and advising them to read his novels. I had gifted his books to some friends including one to Jayakandan my favourite Tamil writer. I had used the stories of Llosa in my speeches to describe the fascinating Latin American culture and society. The latest use was in my speech at Noida on 30 August and in my speech ( http://www.youtube.com/IndembassyAR#p/u/8/aFZVu-J5hQo) on 17 August at the University Women´s Club in Buenos Aires. When I was in Delhi as Head of Latin America division in the Ministry of External Affairs, I had arranged an invitation for Llosa to visit India as the guest of Indian Council for Cultural Relations in 2006. He had accepted the invitation but could not give date since he was busy for the next several months.
Here are some of the blogs I had written on the novels of Llosa in my Latinamericanaffairs blog.
Captain Pantoja and the special service
Bad girl – novel by Mario Vargas Llosa
Conversation in the Cathedral

"The way to Paradise" http://latinamericanaffairs.blogspot.com/2006/04/books-of-laura-restrepo-and-mario.html#links

In my January 2009 blog on ¨The Bad girl ¨, I wrote ¨It is a pity that Llosa has not yet been considered for Nobel prize¨. He was said to be not sufficiently leftist or liberal to qualify for the Nobel prize. Politically, Llosa is centre right and I differ with him on many Latin American political issues. His son Alvaro Vargas Llosa is even more right. He cowrote a book ¨Guide for a perfect Latin American idiot ¨ a satirical work on the Latin American left.

It is said that Borges of Argentina ( another great writer of Latin America and one of the best in the world ) has not got the Nobel prize because of his closeness to the rightist military dictatorship. But Poor Borges was driven to the right by the intolerant leftist Peronist authoritarinism.

My favourite novel of Llosa is ¨Aunt Julia and the script writer¨. In this novel, an adolescent boy falls in love with his middle-aged aunt. She tries to dissuade him saying that his infatuation would disappear later when he discovered young girls. But he persists with his declaration of true love and even proposes marriage. She again discourages him saying that such a marriage would not last given the prejudice against their age combination. When he insists, she asks him, ¨suppose we get married.. how long do you think that we would live happily?¨. The adoloscent boy replies without giving it any thought, ¨two years¨. She jumps up in excitement, ¨two years… 720 days.. great .. it is worthwhile to marry for two years of happiness¨ They get married and live together for over two years. Later I found out that this was the real life story of Llosa himself.

¨The storyteller¨ is another amazing novel which impacted me profundly. The story is about a university student who goes to the Amazon jungle and becomes head of a tribe and takes up the tradition of telling stories.

Llosa´s novels bring out the essence of Latin American way of life, love, sex, relationship and marriage realistically and magically. I say magically because he makes us love the Latino excesses and vices. Of course some of his themes are shocking to the conservative Indians. For example in the Diary of Don Rigoberto the husband lets his wife go on a trip with her boy friend and then discusses the trip with her. In the Bad Girl, the heroine lets herself go with all kinds of adventures crossing many boundaries. At the end, I found her adorable and could not contain my tears when she died….

Most of his novels are about his native country describing the life and society of Peruvians. A few of his novels have covered other countries. In ¨The war of the end of the world¨ the story takes place in Brazil. Llosa says that this was the best among all his novels, the most ambitious project he had ever undertaken and the book on which he worked the longest and with the most difficulty. He was inspired to write this after reading the book¨Os Sertaoes¨by the Brazilian writer Euclides da Cunha. Another of his novels ¨Feast of the goats¨ is about the Trujillo dictatorship in Dominican Republic.

Llosa is not just a writer. He is a writer´s writer. In his book ¨letters to a young novelist¨ he gives advice to aspiring writers how to write novels. A writer, in his view, is a being seized by an insatiable appetite for creation, a rebel and a dreamer. Questioning of real life is the secret raison détre of literature, according to Llosa. He gives a Latino definition of writing novels saying that it is the equivalent of reverse striptease.
In another book, A writer´s reality he explains what provoked or motivated him to write some of his novels. He describes in detail the process of his writing the novels and the influences and inspiration behind them.

In his autobiography A fish in the water written in 1993 he has given a glimpse of his evolution as a writer and an insight to the Peruvian society and politics.

Here I am with my collection of books of Mario Vargas Llosa....

Recently someone gave me a birthday gift. It was Llosa´s book ¨The language of passion ¨ .
Could there be any better gift for someone ¨Passionate about Latin America¨?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Indian TV film shooting in Rio de Janeiro

An Indian TV production company is shooting Khatron ke Khiladi season 3 ( fear factor) in Rio from 17 August to 7 September. The hostess of this show is Priyanka Chopra.
Copacabana seems to have captured the imagination of Bollywood. Earlier in 2006 the Bollywood film Dhoom II was shot in Rio.
According to this Times of India report, Priyanka loves to break rules...
ha..ha.. she has so much to learn from the Brasilians who have made an art out of breaking rules called as Jeitinho...
And of course, she will be floored by the jeitinho and jokes of Lakhi, my friend from Sao Paulo. His restaurant Tandoor is going to do the catering for the Indian crew in Rio. Lakhi..the Lucky Guy is to going to camp in Rio during the shooting !
His contact lakhi daswani
I am sure Lakhi´s Latino jokes will inspire the crew to come again and send more Bollywood producers to Latin America.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Argentine Musician, Gustavo Santaolalla to compose music for Bollywood film

Argentine musician, Gustavo Santaolalla is going to direct music for the new Indian film ¨Dhobi Ghat¨. Aamir Khan has contracted Gustavo for the film being directed by his wife Kiran Rao. Gustavo was in Mumbai for this recently.

The Golden Globe Award winner Gustavo is well known for scoring music for the films Brokeback Mountain, Babel and The Motorcycle Diaries. He had won Academy Awards in 2005 and 2006 for ‘Best Original Score’ in Brokeback Mountain and Babel respectively. His music also earned him the Grammy and BAFTA awards.

In the film Dhobi Ghat, Gustavo has tried to give the Indian feel by using instruments like sarangi, veena and the Carnatic flute. After watching the film, he said, “This movie is a reflection of the identity of Mumbai. I liked the way the characters are presented by Kiran in the film, I liked the story.”

Santaolalla was born in El Palomar in Argentina. His professional music career began in 1967, when he co-founded the group Arco Iris, an Argentine band that pioneered the fusion of rock and Latin American folk. Later, he assembled Soluna, in which he played alongside teenage pianist and singer Alejandro Lerner and his then-girlfriend Monica Campins. As a solo artist, he has recorded three albums. His first self-titled album, Santaolalla (1981), broke new ground by incorporating the "eighties" sound into rock in Argentina for the first time.

Santaolalla is based in California since 1978.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Magic has dropped from the Magical Realism of South America

The South Americans were living in the world of magical realism for the last one year, dreaming and preparing for the world cup. In the last one month, they were talking and breathing football. They postponed meetings and projects to dates after the world cup. When all the four countries of Mercosur reached quarterfinals, there was euphoria. It was a Mercosur moment... of football power and pride. It was expected that 11 July would be a Intra-Mercosur affair.

The South Americans shopped on thursday and stocked their fridge with beer and barbecue meat. They took off from work on friday and prepared for a long weekend of football fiesta with friends and family.

On Friday morning, the Brasilians started in form with 1-0 over Holland. But after the Dutch equalised and made one more goal, the overconfident Brasilian players, who underestimated the Dutch, became nervous and lost out. The Brasilians who were watching in the big screen TV in the Copacabana beach were stunned and shocked.

This morning , the Argentines were humiliated by the Germans with a 4-0 . The Germans outsmarted and overpowered the Argentines who were running around like headless chicken. It seemed to be an unequal battle. The Argentine infantry against the supersonic Luftwaffe bombers. The Germans bombed at will and destroyed the impotent Argentine infantry.

In the afternoon, the Paraguayans fought a valiant battle against the odds and had a honourable and expected defeat. Now the Uruguyans, who won yesterday against Ghana with luck and the Hand of Suarez, are the only ones left to hold the flag in the semifinals. But their chance against Holland is not very bright. It appears that South America is out and Germany is unstoppable to win the 2010 cup.

The days of magical realism are over in South America. Today it is the day of realism without the magic. It is the realism of disbelief and disillusion... grief and gloom....anguish and agony... dejection and despair.

The Argentines have suffered the worst. They are perplexed and depressed. Even the normally talkative Maradona was lost for words and did not even attempt to give any explanation or excuse. The masses who watched in the big screens in public squares left in silence and sadness.

For Maradona, who was shouting all these days ¨ Vamos Argentina ¨ ( Argentina..Ahead ) the only option now is to sing ¨Dont cry for me Argentina ¨ as Madonna did in the movie Evita.

What is incredible is that the Argentine team had more star players than the Germans. The Argentine players are the pride of the European teams and their star performers. How could the star team let themselves be decimated so pathetically and inexplicably.

The other realism sans magic is the zero goal of Messi in the entire world cup.The best player of the world, the top scorer in Europe and the one who commanded the highest price did not get a single goal. The Argentines are at a complete loss to explain or understand this mysterious fate.

The Argentines have realised their mistaken belief in Messi as the Messiah. For those who worshipped in the Church of Maradona, today is the day of crucification.

The Argentine football stars failed to shine today. It is a dark sky over Argentina tonight. The Argentines are not going to dance Tango tonight. Instead, they will sing the sad Tango song of Carlos Gardel,

sola y triste en esta noche,
noche negra y sin estrellas.

Alone and sad this night
Dark night without stars.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Maradona… oh… Maradona

¨Maradona…oh…Maradona… with the fire in your belly and strength in your nerves .. you will come back to succeed¨. This was the Bengali song of Mokam band with which Maradona was welcomed in Kolkata in December 2008. The god-denying ideologues and men of dialectical materialism of Kolkatta made exception and worshipped and treated him as a god. Overwhelmed by the ovation, Maradona said, ¨ I thought there were no more surprises left in my life but my visit to Kolkata has changed that".

Maradona is, of course, god to some diehard Argentine fans who have set up a Church of Maradona, with its own Ten Commandments and tens of thousands of international followers. He is worshipped as D10S, which combines his shirt number ten and Dios, which means God in Spanish. The autobiography of Maradona is the Bible. Those who helped him are apostles and his adversaries are heretics. Having gone through glorification, crucification and resurrection, Maradona´s story fits the legendary requirements for a new religion!

The Argentine team is packed with more stars than any other team. But it is a Maradona team. He is not just yet another coach. El Diego is the man in the spotlight. His leaps of joy and slumps of sadness like a Tango dancer outside the touch-line is as much watched as the game of the players.

While Maradona has the feet of magic and the ¨Hand of God¨, his mouth is known for verbal shots and colourful vocabulary. He said,¨ Only Dalma and Gianina are my legitimate children. The others are children born out of money or mistake¨. About the strikers who get the ball near the goal area but fail to put it in, he says it is like dancing with a sister.

His autobiography (published in 2004) is like a canvass of his emotion and passion. The book is like the history of Argentina itself. Both the man and the country had seen memorable days of glory and forgettable times of infamy. Boom and bust… ups and downs..

His story of rise from poverty to fame is like that of Evita, the goddess of Argentine masses. At the age of ten, he was spotted by a talent scout who got him into the junior team of Argentinos Juniors. As a twelve year old ball boy, he amused spectators by showing his wizardry with the ball during the halftime intermissions of first division games. From there he rose to become one of the greatest footballers.

Maradona´s moment of glory was the 1986 world cup and his Goal of the Century. From that peak, he plunged into ignominious bottom with drugs and scandals. He was banned from playing for fifteen months. He came back and joined the world cup team in 1994 and scored a great goal against Greece. But thereafter he was sent back in disgrace after failing the dope test. Then he got into serious problems of drug addiction, became massively overweight and suffered serious health problems. After near death scare, he was admitted to a rehabilitation centre in Cuba where he recovered. He came back and reinvented himself as a TV host and in 2008 became the coach of the Argentine team.

Will this man of miraculous resurrection inspire their team to overcome the supersonic Luftwaffe of the Germans on saturday and to win the world cup on 11 July? Asking such a question is heresy in the Church of Maradona.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Two wishes..only two wishes.. for the world cup

My first wish has come true...
All the four countries of Mercosur (Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay ) are now in the quarter finals. This is the first time ever, all the four have reached quarter finals together.

Mercosur is Mercado Comun de Sur which means Southern Common Market. It appears that the World cup is looking to the Sur, as a famous Tango song says,
El Corazon mirando al Sur ….. means …the heart is looking south.

All these days, I had been cheering and shouting,
¨Vamos Brasil, vamos Argentina, Vamos Uruguay and Vamos Paraguay¨
Now I say …
Parabens…Felicitaciones… Felicitaciones… Felicitaciones.
These mean congrats in Portuguese and Spanish.

Mercosur has now become a formidable football powerhouse….
Brazil has won the world cup five times..Argentina and Uruguay have won twice each.. Paraguay has reached Quarter finals for the first time.

My next wish.. … it should be a Mercosur final on 11 july…

I have only two wishes….only two...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Football fidelity: An Indian diplomat’s dilemma

This article has been distributed by IANS newsservice and published in Indian media today.

Here it is

Football fidelity: An Indian diplomat’s dilemma (Special)
By R. Viswanathan, IANS
June 9th, 2010
I applauded and cheered when Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, the three countries of my accreditation as India’s ambassador, qualified for the World Cup in South Africa. But this diplomatic honour has now come under challenge from the football rivalry of the three countries.
The Argentines say that since I am resident in Buenos Aires I have no option but to cheer for the blue and white stripes. The Uruguayans tell me not to forget their country which won the first World Cup in 1930 beating Argentina. They went on to win a second cup in Rio de Janeiro in 1950, defeating the Brazilian team and shocking the 52 million noisy Brazilians into silence.
The Paraguayans say as an Indian diplomat I should show more solidarity with the underdog and should not be on the side of superpowers. Paraguay had beaten Brazil 2-0 and Argentina 1-0 in this World Cup qualifiers. While I face these three corner shots, there comes another one. ¨Don’t be a traitor,¨ shout my amigos from Brazil where I had spent four memorable years.

In this supercharged atmosphere of no-holds barred rivalry, I found the only way to survive is to practise the old-world diplomacy. In the olden days, much before people got into Twitter troubles, there was a saying, “a diplomat is someone who thinks twice before saying nothing”.
In the first few months of my arrival in Buenos Aires, the most important question I faced was not on the nuclear or climate change issue but, “Are you going to be a Boca or River?” The rivalry between Boca Juniors and Riverplate teams is one of the most intense in the world. Even marriages and friendships are built or broken on the issue of loyalty to the team which passes from generation to generation.

The match between the two teams in the Boca stadium La Bombonera is an unforgettable Argentine experience. I kept my neutrality until I fell into the trap of Francisco, the vice president of the Indo-Argentine chamber of commerce and a Boca fan. He offered to take me to La Bombonera and arranged the best seat. But when I was about to sit, he said very loudly, “This seat is only for the Boca fans who are ready to live and die for the team. Are you ready to take the oath of loyalty to Boca and be a fan through victories and defeats?” With hundreds of excited and fierce fans staring at me, I had no choice but to say “I do”. Then the ritual started.
I was made to jump up and down with Boca songs. I was indoctrinated with stories of the illegitimate ancestry of Riverplate players and the most appropriate words to describe them. They put a Boca shirt on me and said, “You can change wives but not this shirt!” In South America, marital infidelity is forgiven but not football disloyalty. So I am now stuck with the Boca shirt. My friends from River have vowed never to forgive me and are planning to petition the government of India to send a River fan as the next ambassador.

World Cup time in South America is low season for work and business. My Argentine colleagues in the embassy are converting the office into a sports bar stocking it with the essential liquid and solid necessities to last for a month. Conveniently for them, the game timings will be 8.30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. Argentine time. The game watching will be preceded by an hour of preparations and followed by two hours of analysis, celebration or singing of sad Tangos. The Argentines advise the Indian staff “In Argentina , do as the Argentines do.”

This is the time of “sonrisa de esperanza y sollozo de pasion” (smile of hope and cry of passion), as the Tango of Carlos Gardel says. It is an exciting and unique experience to be in this part of the world during the world cup. There is just no escape from the media frenzy and public fever with non-stop debates and analysis. The 40 million Argentines become judges, prosecutors, critics and umpires at the same time. The current topic of debate is on the freedom given to the Argentine team members to have sex during the World Cup, the only one among the 32 teams which has got this unique privilege.

One cannot talk about football without a reference to Maradona, who scored with the “Hand of God” and is now the irrepressible coach. Sociologists say the best way to understand Argentina is through an understanding of Maradona, who has gone through ups and downs like the country itself. When asked by the media, “what will you do if Argentina wins the World Cup?”, he said, “I will run naked around the Obelisk monument”.

It is not only the footballers who use provocative vocabulary. Even Argentine diplomacy sometimes adds colour to the drab world of the excellencies. In 1990, Guido di Tella, the Argentine foreign minister, said Argentina had “carnal relations” with the US…and the American diplomats did not know what to make of it!

(R. Viswanathan is Indian ambassador in Buenos Aires. The views expressed in this article, special to IANS, are personal. He can be contacted at ambassador@indembarg.org.ar)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Kerala soccer fan paints Argentine colours on his auto rickshaw

Amigos Argentinos.... A fan from the backwaters of Kerala is cheering for Argentina in his humble but colourful way by painting his autorickshaw in Argentine colours.
Buena Suerte...

Here is the news published in India:
MALAPPURAM - A soccer fan from Kerala has painted his three-wheeled auto rickshaw in the blue and white stripes of the Argentina flag and offers free ride to those, who support the Latin American team. Parakan Nazeer supports Argentina because he believes its soccer stars are among the favourites to lift this year’s world cup that kicks off in South Africa next week. Nazeer, an auto rickshaw driver by profession, drives around in his colourful auto trying to garner support for his favourite team in the coconut-laden backwaters of Kerala. “Right now, I am quite anxious, there are many teams with a chance, who will be the lucky one, we don’t know. Argentina has a chance and I am supporting Argentina,” said Nazeer. He has spent around 5,000 rupees to convert the auto into the Argentinian flag colours. Nazeer travels to the nearby villages in a bid to increase the number of supporters and also explains about each players, their style and strong point of defense. “The Brazilian supporters have been telling me to convert my auto into the yellow colours of Brazil, but I am an Argentine supporter and sticking with my team,” Nazeer added. He plans to continue driving his vehicle in its current avatar until the world cup ends and Argentina lifts the trophy. Nazeer has also placed some heavy bets on Argentina and hopes that his team will repay his faith in them with a victory.

Kerala, one of the three three states in India where football is more popular, is preparing for the world cup with posters, debates and bettings. Below are two posters in a village, saying in Malayalam ¨Varunnu Argentina¨which means ¨vamos Argentina¨.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Latino Kiss in Bollywood film.....

What is a Latino kiss? Latinos say it is the opposite of Australian kiss.....
Here is a demonstration of Latino kiss...

This is a scene from Kites, the first Bollywood film with a Latin American heroine. It is Barbara Mori, the Uruguyan-born Mexican actress. The Bollywood actor is Hrithik Roshan... wearing a Mexican sombrero in the picture below.....

The story is about an Indian man’s romantic affair with a Latina woman. Hrithik Roshan plays a salsa teacher who speaks only Hindi and English. Barbara Mori plays a Latina who speaks only Spanish. But they understand each other through the Latino language of love....

The Indian businessmen should now stop talking about the language barrier to do business with latin America...

There are some scenes shot in Mexico ....

The film is expected to be released in May in Hindi ,English and Spanish too....

A Brasilian garota Giselle Monteiro has also acted in a Bollywood film (Love aaj kal) but in a supporting role. Before becoming an actress in Bollywood, Giselle was a professional model. She came to Mumbai on a modelling assignment which opened the doors to Bollywood. Indians who watched the film did not know she was a Brazilian untill it was publicised...doesnt she look like a kaur from Jullunder.....?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Indian Fashion Show in Buenos Aires

The first-ever Indian Fashion Show we organized on 24 March at Hotel Sheraton in Buenos Aires, was a spectacular success. It was attended by almost 1000 invitees including fashion designers, importers, textile industry representatives and media. The Indian designs, colours and creativity floored the Argentines and has opened the doors to the high-end textile market of Argentina. Since Buenos Aires is the fashion capital of Latin America, the impact of the show will be felt in the whole region.

Two Indian designers Nachiket Barve and Anita Dongre came from Mumbai for the show. We combined them with two Argentine designers Monica Socolovsky and Fabian Zita who use Indian materials and accessories. Monica has travelled to India 96 times and is an ardent devotee of Sai Baba. Her company is called “Satya Fashion”. Her clothes are sold in nearly 200 stores in the country and she also exports to Europe, USA and rest of Latin America.

Following the show, we organized a reception for 200 VIPs. The Show was telecast by Fashion TV and a number of local TV channels. Fashion magazines and newspapers have given wide coverage.
Bandana Tiwari, Editor of the Vogue magazine of India had come specially from Mumbai for our show. Her passage and local hospitality were given by the Argentine government export promotion agency. This was organized by Monica Socolosvky.

Our show was part of the week-long Buenos Aires ‘Alta Moda Fashion Week´ (22-28 March), which featured Argentine and foreign fashion designers. Since we plugged our show into this, we were able to reduce the expenditure on publicity and infrastructure as well as on the Argentine models who were hired for the Fashion Week.

Monica Socolovsky (in the picture baove) has popularized and enhanced the profile of Indian textiles for the last thirty years in Argentina through her “Satya Fashion” stores and franchise. She was the one behind the organization and success of our Fashion Show. She had taken the trouble of visiting our designers in India and coordinating the preparations.

We hope to repeat the Indian Fashion Show next year and the coming years too.. We are also planning to invite a delegation of six to ten Argentine designers for our Fashion shows in India and expose them to our traditions and variety and colours of our materials, embroideries and designs.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fernandez - Argentine novel

The author of this novel is Jorge Fernandez Diaz, the same who wrote La segunda vida de las Flores.

This is the story of Fernandez, the journalist and his exposure to political and social issues of Argentina. One day, Fernandez in his middle age, is at the waiting room of a dentist in Palermo in Buenos Aires. There appears Lili, his ex-girl friend from the school days. The unexpected meeting of the two after thirty years sets off both of them on a memory trip going over what happened in their lives in this period. They recall their friends and acquaintances, adventures and misadventures as well as amores y desamores.

Fernandez became a journalist and got a rich experience of dealing with political leaders and social issues. He was lured by the governor of a Patagonian province to edit a local newspaper. The governor used the newspaper to manipulate news and opinion in the region. Fernandez was unable to take beyond a point and returned to Buenos Aires. After his return, Fernandez started working in a magazine. Here he got a different experience of political manipulation by the media. Delia, the owner of the magazine used and misused political leaders for her profit. She tried to make Fernando write her biography with falsified information. During this period, he went to Punta del Este, where the rich and famous Argentines do wheeling and dealing while partying and vacationing.

Lili had her own adventures of romance and marriage. She was married to a rich man but it did not work out. Both Fernandez and Lili, in their formative years were influenced by Marxism and other leftist ideologies, as was fashionable in those days. But they moved on.

Ideas of love and romance are reawakened in the hearts of Fernandez and Lili in this meeting after such a long time. She looks radiant and well operated …from top to bottom !! He looks like he carried the wounds of a hundred battles of life. But as typical Porteños, they analyse and reanalyse every word and every gesture of each other… and walk away from the Second Opportunity life presented to them.

Jorge Fernandez Diaz, who is also a journalist, has given a vivid account of what goes on behind the news coverage and commentaries. He has brought out the nexus between political leaders and journalists and how the two try to take advantage of each other using their political and journalistic power. Diaz takes the readers around the cafes and bars of the neighbourhood of Palermo, as he had done in his previous novel. The middle age crisis of Fernandez and Lili has been used by Diaz for psychoanalysis, which is a trade mark of the Argentine authors. Diaz has cleverly woven the political crisis of the country with the middle age crisis of the two individuals.

I agree with Diaz´s political comment that Argentines sought Truth in the eighties but Truth did not matter in the nineties ¨. Now Argentina seems to have entered a post-truth era….

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Costa Rica, the land of enlightened elite, elects Laura Chinchilla as the new President

In the elections held on 7 February, Laura Chinchilla was elected as the first woman President of Costa Rica. She was a Minister of Justice and first Vice President in the administration of her predecessor, President Oscar Arias. She was leading in the opinion polls and her victory was predicted. It is this predictability and long democratic tradition which makes Costa Rica different from the rest of Latin America. The country has held regular elections every four years and peaceful transfer of power in the last sixty years. This is remarkable and distinct in the contemporary history of Latin America where many countries had suffered military dictatorships, civil wars and interruption of democracies.

What is the secret behind this unique achivement of Costa Rica which has managed to be an island of peace and democracy in the ocean of Latin American political instability and chaos in the post- Second World War era. In fact there are two secrets behind this.

Firstly, the country has no military. It abolished the armed forces voluntarily in 1948. The absence of armed forces meant that there were no cocky colonels or generals who thought they knew how to run governments better than the politicians. Ballots , not bullets , became the only route to power. Costa Rica boasts that they spend their money on teachers and schools instead of colonels and barracks. Costa Rica has set an example to Latin America and the world of a military-free society.

The second secret is the abiding commitment and consensus among the elite of Costa Rica to democracy and social equity. It is true that most of the political leaders come from the small number of oligarchic families in the country, as in many other countries in the region. This includes President Arias, a coffee baron and from the top three wealthiest families in the country. But the Costa Rican oligarchy is an enlightened one with a social conscience. The governments have pursued a policy of inclusive development, irrespective of whether they are conservatives or liberals. The four million citizens enjoy the benefits of a modern social welfare state including pensions, labour legislation, national health care and a life expectancy of 77. In 1869, the country became one of the first in the world to make education both free and obligatory, funded by the state’s share of the great coffee wealth. The literacy rate of over 95 percent is one of the highest in Latin America. Even the coffee growing land is distributed among 100,000 families and not monopolised by the oligarchy. Costa Rica was the first country in Central America to give voting rights to women and people of African origin in 1948. It is because of this equity in the society that there has been no revolutionary leftist outsider to challenge the status quo as it happened in some other countries in the region. Latin America has the highest disparity of income in the world. It is this factor which has been responsible for the polarisation of politics and societies and the consequent political instability. Costa Rica has succeeded in reducing the disparity through inclusive development and making all its citizens as stakeholders in democracy. The voter turn out in the elections is one of the highest in the region.

Costa Rica´s democracy which had taken strong roots since the very beginning of the twentieth century was interrupted once in February 1948. President Rafael Calderon annuled the 1948 elections after his handpicked successor candidate lost the elctions. A civil war followed claiming 2000 lives. Jose Figueres , the conservative leader lead a rebel army and toppled the government and took over power in May 1948. But Figueres promised that he would relinquish power in eighteen months after carrying out some reforms. He fulfilled both the promises. He handed over power promptly in November 1949 to the legally elected President in February 1948. His reforms included abolition of the army, decentralisation of power and extension of vote to women. Later he created his own National Liberation party and won the presidential elections in 1953 and in 1970. He handed over power gracefully when he lost the elections in 1958. His son became President in 1990. Ironically he took over from the son of Rafael Calderon against whom his father lead the armed rebellion in 1948. President–elect Chinchilla and President Arias are from the same National Liberation party founded by Figueres.

Costa Rica, known as the Switzerland of Latin America, is not a passively peaceful society blind to the problems around. The country has taken initiatives to help their neighbours. It was Costa Rica which brokered a peace agreement ending the civil war in the region for which President Oscar Arias was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. In June last year when the El Salvadorean democracy was interrupted, USA and OAS turned to President Arias for his help in resolving the issue.
Costa Rica is, of course, not free from challenges such as corruption, drug trafficking and crime. There have been corruption scandals involving ex-Presidents and Ministers. Chinchilla has promised in her election agenda to tackle these issues.

Costa Rica also stands out as a role model for Latin America in many other respects. With its high literacy rate and per capita computer penetration, the country has attracted Silicon Valley and silicon implants. Intel, HP and other computer companies, call centres and BPOs have a significant presence. Silicon implants for breast enlargement are major exports besides other medical equipments as well as some pharmaceuticals. The country has successfully diversified its economy which was dependent soley upon export of coffee in the past. Costa Rica has also pioneered Ecotourism in the region. The country attracts over two million tourists a year. The per capita income of Costa Rica at 11,000 US Dollars is three times higher than the other countries in Central America.

Costa Rica was one of the first in the world which combined its ministries of energy and the environment back in the 1970s and generates an impressive 99 per cent of its energy from renewable sources. In 1997, a carbon tax was introduced on emissions – with the funds gained being used to pay indigenous communities to protect their surrounding forests. Deforestation has been reversed, and forests cover twice as much land as 20 years ago. In 2007, the Costa Rican Government declared that it intended to become carbon neutral by 2021.

¨Pura Vida¨ is how the Costa Ricans respond cheerfully when you ask them , Como esta ( how are you ). Pura vida literally means pure life. But what the Costa Ricans mean is ¨full of life¨. This makes them distinct among the Latin Americans who respond generally as Bien ( fine) or Muy Bien ( very well ). It is not surprising that Costa Ricans were classified as the happiest people in the world in the Happy Planet Index compiled by the British research group, the New Economics Foundation in their annual survey of 2009.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Peron Novel – by Tomas Eloy Martinez

This is the fictionalised versión of the life of Juan Domingo Peron who was President of Argentina 1946-55 and later in 1973-74. After overthrown by rightist military generals in 1955, Peron was in exile in Madrid for 18 years and returned in 1973 to become President of the country and died a year later. The story starts with Peron preparing to leave Madrid in 1973 and return to Buenos Aires and be reanointed as President of the country. But the 18 years of exile and 78 years of age had taken its toll on his body and mind. He is no longer sure about himself, his ideology, friends, followers and even about Argentina in general. He is in a progressive state of mental decay and is uncertain and confused in his understanding and decision making. At the same time, his followers are also equally confused since they had lost touch with the leader for a long period which was painful for the country and themselves . Even the mention of the word Peron, Eva or peronism was prohibited and was punishable with jail sentence in the anti-Peronist military rule. Understandly, the Peronists were clueless as to how Peron would relead the country which had undergone so much of traumatic changes.

Peron is manipulated by his fawning secretary Lopez who has a game plan for the post-Peron time. He is preparing Isabella the third wife of Peron to take over after the death of Peron. Knowing that he has very little life left in him, Peron is preparing his memoirs to claim his place in the history of Argentina. This exercise makes him recollect his past starting from his childhood. He recalls his career as an army officer, marriages and involvement in politics leading to his Presidency of the country. In the memoirs, Peron edits his life story with omissions and commissions to make him appear as heroic and admirable.

Peron was not just one of those Presidents of Argentina. He has left an indelible mark on Argentine politics and modern history. Peronism has become a force to reckon with in the politics of the country. Peron´s second wife Evita has also contributed to the mythology of Peronism. The current President Christina and her husband who was President from 2003 to 2007 as well as Menem who was President from 1989 to 1999 are Peronists. Peronism has come to stay as a leftist and populist ideology with belief in a strong government as protector of the masses and control of the market. While Peron was the undisputed supreme leader of Peronism at that time, Peronism has now broken into several factions and is divided.

One can see the origin and evolution of the Peronist ideology from Peron´s remiscenses. As an army officer, Peron believed in strong leadership leaning towards authoritarianism. He is influenced and inspired by Mussolini during his posting as military attache in Italy. He is impressed by Mussolini´s nationalism, populism and militarism which became ingredients of Peron´s brand of ideology later. Although his political ideolgy became controversial, Peron had
contributed to development of the country in industry, infrastructure and social justice.

Tomas Eloy Martinez, the Argentin author of this novel passed away last month. I have developed admiration for him after reading two of his other novels, Santa Evita and The Tango Singer. Martinez was also a victim of military dictatorship and was exiled to Venezuela from where he migrated to US and became a professor at Rutgers University. Before his exile, he had worked as a journalist and had interacted with and interviewed Peron. With his personal knowledge and experience, Martinez has given an accurate description of Peron highlighting the various facets of the personality of this enigmatic leader. Martinez has done extensive research on the life of Peron and has published two other books. He has cleverly mixed facts with fiction in the style of magical realism. It is difficult to know where reality ends and imagination starts. Combining his real-life knowledge with his magical realism skills, Martinez has made the novel more powerful, leaving a strong impact on the readers. The book is useful to understand not only Peron but also the contemporary politics and society of Argentina which are haunted by the past.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The News from Paraguay – novel by Lily Tuck

The story starts with a feather. A bright blue parrot feather falls out of the hat of Ella while riding a horse in Paris. Francisco Lopez picks it up and gives it to her. And there starts a romance ... like in a Bollywood movie. Francisco has been sent to Paris by his father Carlos Antonio Lopez, the first constituitional President of Paraguay. Francisco lives an adventurous playboy life in Paris showing off his wealth and status. Alongwith his luggage from Paraguay he has even brought a native band to play at his parties. He falls in love with Ella, an equally adventurous and horse-riding Irish girl of nineteen, who has come to live the good life of Paris. She lives with a Russian count after having divorced a French man whom she married when she was fifteen. The Count leaves her to join the Russian war and Francisco enters her life at this opportune time. Francisco courts her in royal style and takes her back to Paraguay. But he cannot marry her since his father does not allow the marriage because she is a divorcee . He puts her up in a separate house and Ella puts up with her status as a mistress. She manages to survive in the midst of the hostile family members of Francisco and the hot, humid and backward life in Asuncion. She impresses the natives with her elegant Parisian dress, shoes and perfumes. She gives birth to seven children of whom the first one Pancho takes after his father in his adventurous and headstrong attitude. Franciso takes over from his father as the President of Paraguay and modernises the country with railways, telegraph, industries and even starts building a opera hall like the La Scala of Italy. But his overconfidence and megalomania lead him into a war against the combined forces of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. He is killed in combat and Paraguay is ruined. Ella goes back to Paris but dies as a pauper, having lost everything.

This is a historical fiction based on the Paraguyan President (1862-70) Francisco Solano Lopez and his Irish mistress Ella Lynch. Many other characters in the novel are also real. Lopez started off his Presidency well with his modernisation programme. He built the first railways in South America, ahead of Brazil and Argentina. Paraguay at this time was more developed and industrialised than many countries in the region. But the war against the Triple Alliance of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay was foolish and catastrophic. Predictably, Paraguay was defeated. But more devastating was the fact that two thirds of the male population of the country was killed in the war. The impact of this is felt even now and there is shortage of men., who have taken advantage of this situation. There are lot of children in Paraguay who don’t know their fathers.

This book won the National Book Award in 2004. The author Lily Tuck is an American who was born in Paris. She had lived for sometime in Uruguay. She has given a flavour of Paraguay in the novel and has given a lively portrayal of the historical characters. She has blended and contrasted the high society Parisian lifestyle with the laid back life in backward Paraguay. These are brought out in the exchange of correspondence between Ella from Paraguay and her friend princess Mathilde who lives in Paris. Buenos Aires also figures in the novel since it is the transit point to enter the landlocked Paraguay through the Rio de la Plata river. The Paraguayans in those days as well as now come to enjoy the parties and fashions of Buenos Aires, the Paris of Latin America.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Combi – Argentine novel by Angela Pradelli

The previous two Argentine novels I had read this month were about middle class and rich people. But Combi is about the poor and marginalised, who travel by Combi ( minibus) from their residences in the outskirts of Buenos Aires city for more than one hour for their work in the city. This novel is about the fifteen passengers who travel in one of the Combis regularly to the city.

The novel starts with the driver Esteban whose father was also a Combi driver. His father runs away with the wife and money of the owner of the minibus company, uses the money to buy a hotel in a southern town, loses the money with poor management and dies in misery. Esteban´s happiest memories were travelling with his father, talking to him and singing together when they went to a beach town when he was a kid. Esteban is content with his job and his modest life with limited ambitions. His wife asks him to buy diapers for the baby but he forgets it and remembers only the ample breasts pushing against the tight blouse of the receptionist in the minibus company office.
- Carolina, the receptionist in the minibus company had earlier worked in an icecream shop and had a fling with a college student during his summer vacation. She struggles to tolerate her boss who smokes all the time and the irate passengers who take it out on her when the minibus is delayed or when they could not get a seat.
-America Levano, the Peruvian woman, comes to find livelihood in Buenos Aires after her husband ran away with another woman leaving her with his daughter. She lives with other Peruvians and Bolivians in a ghetto which is raided periodically by the Argentine police. She finds work as a domestic help and later an Argentine man to live with. Discovering one day that the Argentine was abusing her daughter, She kills him with a kitchen knife. After her jail term ends she resumes her work and travel by the Combi.
-Olga makes a career out of giving bath to sick and handicapped people. Her job is disgusting when she has to touch and clean the bodies of people with infections and skin diseases. But she has got used to it and the money she earns is good compensation. Her job exposes her to all kinds of people including one who wants her to wash a mannequin.
-Megumi, a woman of Japanese descent enjoys her volunteer job as a reader to sick and handicapped people. Once she is asked to read to a person in coma on the belief that the person in coma might be hearing what is read. By a miracle, the person in coma wakes up one day and remembers the stories read out to him by Megumi. When she reads out in an old peoples´home, the history professor there notices her small feet which make him recall the Chinese tradition of forcefully making women´s feet small and the erotic connotations of small feet in China.
-Bruno is an anthropologist who works as a forensic expert to identify the persons who were tortured, killed and buried by the military dictatorship. He along with other experts analyse the bones and other remains from cemetries and make out who they were and how they died. His technical job gets complicated when he works with the sad and desperate families of those who lost their fathers, brothers and sons to military repression.
- Josef Wrobleswki, of Polish origin, has a habit of telling everyone the story of his family from Poland. But while narrating the sadder parts of the story he starts speaking in Polish and sobbing uncontrollably.
-Ivo mayer is a porno film director after hhaving failed in his ventures to make political films to convey his leftist message. He gets exiled for his political beliefs and on return from exile, he is unable to relaunch his political film project and is stuck in porno films.
The remaining occupants of the fifteen seats in the Combi include a pock marked young woman struggling with the disfiguring of her face by constant eruptions and acnes, a woman who writes astrological columns in a weekly, a man who does magic and tricks and Nacho the orphan kid who is obsessed with cemetries where he spends most of his time. The precariousness of the lives of these characters and the life stories of others with whom they interact in their daily lives are poignant and moving.

On this particular day of the journey, everyone is upset and anxious because the Combi is delayed because of a roadblock by piqueteros ( picketers) on the way. The reason for blocking the road on this day is to commemorate the third anniversary of the death of two of their comrades who were killed in one of the protest marches. The minibus gets stuck in the middle of the protest demonstration. One of the passengers remark,¨we are fucked ( jodido- in spanish) by the dead besides the living Argentines¨. Especially since 2001 (December 2001 saw the worst economic and political crisis in Argentina) the piqueteros have become one of the protagonists of the Argentine society. Day in and day out there are many protest marches in the city of Buenos Aires and traffic is disrupted along with the work and lives of people. Sometimes the piqueteros block the main highways connecting the cities causing traffic jam for miles together. The reasons for such protests could be local or national causes, serious or trivial. But they have become a force to reckon with and part of everyday life in Argentina to the chagrin of middle class and working people. Roadblocks and protests have become instituitionalised. There are many professional piqueteros who have become experts in organisation and media management. They are used by political parties too.

This is the third book I have read in the original Spanish. The author Angela Pradelli has given a vivid account of the lives of poor people who work as domestic help and bus drivers. She has captured their emotions and struggles and made a powerful impact on the readers. The novel is based on her personal experience of travel in Combis and her interaction with all kinds of fellow passengers. Angela works as a teacher

Combi is not a fiction. It is a reality of Argentina. It exists along with the elegant theaters, cafes, bars and restaurants of Buenos Aires and the Country Clubs which have high walls to block the unpleasant reality of slums around them. But the people who live in high-rise apartments and high-walled country clubs cannot avoid the piqueteros and the reality of Argentina....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Las Viudas de los jueves- Argentine novel by Claudia Piñeiro

The novel Las Viudas de los jueves ( the Thursday widows ) takes the readers into the country clubs of Argentina and gives an insight into the lives of the rich Argentines who live in these exclusive places. Country clubs in Argentina ( called as Countries ) are gated residential communities with 100 to 1000 houses. There are around 200 Countries around Buenos Aires city. The main newspapers have weekly supplements on the countries with pictures of idyllic lives. These countries have large houses with spacious gardens, sports facilities such as polofields, golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools. Most importantly the countries provide security with its own private security guards and systems. They have high walls around so that the poor people outside cannot see the affluence inside. Outsiders cannot enter the countries unless they are invited by a resident. The families and children can walk around and do cycling and skating and there is no need to lock the houses. Many of the Countries have golf courses which add to the greenery and scenery. While some people use their country houses for weekends, there are many who live there permanently and commute to work in the city. During weekends, everyone is out in the gardens, golf courses, tennis courts and pools. Even the kitchen goes outdoor for Asado ( barbecue ). Friends and families get together for barbecue lunch and wine.

I have played golf in dozens of these country clubs and been to the barbecue parties of friends living there. I have been impressed with the style of living, elegance of the houses and aesthetic taste with which the houses are furnished. The country club residences look like entries of architects and interior designers for a competition.

The principal characters in the novel are four couples in the country club called as Los Altos de Cascada. The four wives call themselves as Thursday Widows because their husbands get together on Thursday nights to play cards and have fun among themselves. The wives are excluded from this and they go out for movies or find other ways to occupy themselves. On one fatal Thursday, three of the husbands commit suicide by eloctrocutting in the swimming pool. The fourth guy does not agree to this collective suicide and escapes. The reason for the suicide is the fall in their income and loss of jobs and business which make it impossible for them to sustain the lifestyle they had maintained in the country club.

The novel portrays vividly the aspirations, ostentations, anxieties and insecurities within the high society of the countries. A house in a country is a statement by the social climbers. It is to get away from the city crowd and become part of an exclusive group. But after having moved into the country, they are under intense and constant pressure to keep up with the neighbours and keep up appearances. Clothes, cars, gardens and lives are compared all the time. The scrutiny is more intense than among those living in apartments. In the countries everything is open. There are no fences between houses and there is no place to hide. It is like living in glasshouses. Two teenagers in the novel spend the nights spying on the houses of other residents through binoculars watching from trees and bushes. They happen to see the suicide event and film it. Another kid makes sketches of what he sees through the windows. His sketch and diary description of the sexual activities of his neighbour becomes an issue in the school, who advise the parents to take the kid to a psychologist.

In the Argentine society, show is more important than content. This can be seen from the elaborate artistic façade of the buildings and the elegant dressing by old people who come to the neighbourhood cafes. In Brazil dress does not matter. Choli ke peeche kya hai .. is all that the Brasilians are interested.

The son of one of the principal characters in the novel does not know what to write when the teacher asks the children to write about what their fathers do. The father puts a Dr as prefix and pretend to be an advocate although he never went to a law college.

While the men go to work in the city and kids go to bilingual schools during the day, the housewives have plenty of time. Some of them find themselves trapped in the countries. They try to learn painting, tennis, card games and golf. Those who cannot find things to occupy themselves end up drinking. Carmen, one of the characters in the novel, asks her maid to bring a glass of Rutini ( upscale argentine brand) wine as soon as she gets up. She drinks it in the bathroom even before brushing her teeth. The kids take to drugs. They do it freely making use of the protected environment of the gated community which is off limit for police and law enforcement.

In the countries everyone talks only in US dollars even while buying and selling among themselves. A painting made by of one of the residents is sold to a neighbour in dollars.The prices of properties are, of course, quoted in dollars in Argentina in general.

The novel gives an account of what goes on in the golf courses. Golf is not only for fun and relaxation. The fairways of the course are the places where contacts are established and cultivated and business deals are made. Argentina is full of deal makers and contacts are vital for business and success.

When any Korean calls the golf club of Los Altos, the starter is under instructions from the committee to tell them that the course is full or quote very high green fees to deter them from coming. This is not just fiction. It is a fact in most golf clubs in Argentina and Latin America. Korean players are not welcome since they are perceived as rude, quarrelsome and discourteous to other players. The Koreans ahve found a solution to this problem. They have established their own golf courses in many countries of Latin America including in Argentina.

This is the first novel of Claudia Piñeiro I have read. She has impressed me as a talented writer with a sensitive understanding and perceptive analysis of the Argentine society. She has a keen eye for details and her commentaries are apt and sharp.

The Thursday widows was chosen for the award of the best novel of the year in 2005 by Clarin, the largest circulated newspaper of Argentina. A movie with the same title based on the book was released in 2009.

This is the second novel I have read fully in Spanish language and managed to finish the 318 pages in one week. Hmm.. it seems I might read more books in Spanish.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

La segunda vida de las Flores- Argentine novel by Jorge Fernandez Diaz

La segunda vida de las Flores- the second life of Flores - is a delightful novel which deals with love, affairs and emotions in a typical Porteño ( Buenos Aires city) way. It is about the conquests of Machos and the way they get it back from the Latino women who play their own games and how the two sides seek and elude each other.

The story starts with the character of Leno Frangolini who is a legendary seductor. He has affairs with dozens of women. He enjoys the chase and hunts them in cafes, bars and Milongas ( Tango parties) . He moves from one lover to the next smoothly and pleasantly without causing hurt to them. When he turns eighty, he goes for his last conquest ( reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez´s last book ¨memory of my melancholy whores¨) to a Milonga and picks up a woman who had always wanted to dance with him but was never invited by him. She is thrilled when he takes her on the floor and leads with the touch of a maestro. But Leno´s body gives up. It is way behind his spirit and causes a sudden pain in the waist causing a minor disaster on the dance floor. He comes back home, shows his album of affairs to his disciple Fernandez, goes to sleep and dies....
Fernandez, the disciple of Leno, is a journalist. He falls in love with Milagros the Mexican girl who has come to Buenos Aires for a photo shoot of Palermo neighbourhood. Her real reason for coming to Buenos Aires is to look for her Argentine father Durmes , who abandoned his Mexican wife with four small kids including Milagros. She wants to take revenge on the irresponsible father. Fernandez helps her in locating him. Milagros runs the car over her father in the street, killing him. The next day she escapes to Mexico. Fernandes is unable to get over his love who has just disappeared without even a goodbye kiss. He goes to Mexico looking for her desperately. He tracks her down in a small town away from Mexico city. But he gets a shock when he discovers that Milagros is living with her Lesbian friend. Disillusioned, he gets back to Buenos Aires and publishes a novel on the story of Milagros. At the launching of the book many of the lovers of his guru Frangolini and another lover of Durmes turn up.

The novel is not just about the Macho affairs. Female characters such as Colorada, Nerina and Amapola have equally fascinating adventures and escapades. Colorada is bored with her married life with a successful husband, lovely kids and a perfect family in the eyes of the others. She goes for an online romance with a guy who turns out to be a complete liar. Mora is addicted to romance and conquers the conqueror Leno himself. But when the conqueror leaves her for other adventures and comes back later for a second time, she turns him down saying.. there is no more cooking in the kitchen... She philosophises ¨love is an energising driving force which makes one want to be with another person. When there is no drive, why keep a prisoner?¨She turns out to be a narcissist mother interfering with the life and love affairs of her daughter, trying to advise her to get the ideal husband, whom she could never find. Nerina is a puzzle to the conquerors and confuses even the Peronists with her ambivalent political inclinations. Prof Murena, who is hypnotised by her love goes round and round in his cyle around the pond in Palermo, seeing her ghost. Then there is Patricia the boss of Fernandez who is a practical no-nonsense woman. She takes care of Fernandez when he gets lost in love and frustrations. She understands the weaknesses of the romantic Fernandez and rescues him without judging him or manipulating him.

The story brings out the essence of the life and spirit of the inhabitants of Buenos Aires, called as Porteños. The locale of the story is Palermo , the upper middle class neighbourhood.

Montecarlo bar/cafe is the scene of conquests and seductions. This is the hunting ground of the Great seductor and his disciple. The cafes and bars play an important part not only in novels but in the real life of the Porteños. They sit there for hours together reading, thinking and fantasising when they are alone. Friends sit together talking, debating and arguing about every subject under the sun. Lovers exchange glances and endearments and are lost in long kisses, intoxicationed with the wines and the caffeine of the cafe cortado.

No porteño story wil be complete without therapy and psycho analysis. The Porteños are obesessed with the shrinks as much as they are attached to books, parks and cafes. The Great seductor holds forth on the psychology of women and the art of dealing with them. He classifies his women into two types; precious stones and semiprecious stones. As he grows older he settles for semiprecious ones which are less demanding. He sums up his philosophy with a typical Porteño remark, ¨each makes his or her own pelicula ( film ) .¨

This is the first novel I have read in the original Spanish language. I surprised myself finishing this 246 page book in one week. I had always preferred to read Latin American novels in English translation since I was afraid that it would take months for me to complete them in Spanish language. I am now encouraged to try more books in Spanish.

The author Jorge Fernandez Diaz works for La Nacion newspaper of Argentina. This is his latest novel published in October 2009. He has a bit of the touch of Mario Vargas Llosa, my favourite Latin American author.