The Foreigners

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Overview

A glittering, energetic novel about three women-each experiencing an awakening in the gloriously conflicted and sexy city of Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires is a city of Parisian affections and national anxiety, of amorous young lovers, seedy ports, flooded slums, and a dazzling social elite. Into this heady maze of contradiction and possibility enter two women: Daisy, an American divorcée; and Isolde, a beautiful, lonely Austrian. In Buenos Aires, Isolde finds that her blond ...

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The Foreigners

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Overview

A glittering, energetic novel about three women-each experiencing an awakening in the gloriously conflicted and sexy city of Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires is a city of Parisian affections and national anxiety, of amorous young lovers, seedy ports, flooded slums, and a dazzling social elite. Into this heady maze of contradiction and possibility enter two women: Daisy, an American divorcée; and Isolde, a beautiful, lonely Austrian. In Buenos Aires, Isolde finds that her blond European looks afford her entrée to the kind of elite, alluring social world she never would have had access to in her home country, but her ascension also sets her up for a long, surprising fall. Meanwhile, Daisy joins forces with Leonarda, a chameleonic Argentine with radical dreams of rebellion, who transfixes Daisy with her wild effervescence. Soon, Daisy is throwing off her American earnestness and engaging in a degree of passion, manipulation, and risk-taking in a way she never has before. Buenos Aires has allowed her to become someone else.

Against the throbbing backdrop of this shimmering and decadent city- almost a character in itself-Maxine Swann has created a stunning narrative of reawakened sensuality and compulsive desire that simultaneously explores with remarkable acuity themes of foreignness, displacement, and the trembling metamorphoses that arise from such states. From the award-winning, critically celebrated author of Flower Children, The Foreigners is a startlingly bold and original, unforgettable next novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Three women navigate modern life in Buenos Aires in Swann's elegant third novel (after Flower Children). Daisy, a lonely American divorcée with no direction, moves to the city at the suggestion of a friend. To fight the isolation, Daisy explores and encounters fascinating characters, like Gabriel, a medical student turned male gigolo ("the beautiful thing is that it annihilates the whole problem of desire," he says of his work) and Isolde, an Austrian émigré with a lust for social status. Daisy forms a mercurial friendship and an obsessive bond with Leonarda, a young Argentine involved in an underground society trying to create "a strategy of happiness" in order to "alleviate the anxiety of uncertainty" in the country. The city itself, attempting to recover from a recent economic crash, is locked in its own battle for identity and gives Daisy freedom to disappear and flourish anew, at least momentarily. Though the city invites inhabitants to lose themselves for a time, it can also confine those who wish to escape. Whether native or foreigner, each character is displaced and wrestles with the outcome. With lyricism and observational skill that recalls early Joan Didion, Swann brings Buenos Aires to life. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Swann, who won a passel of prizes for the story she expanded into the novel Flower Children, which in turn won some strong reviews and four stars from People, offers a new novel set in Buenos Aires. Three women open up like flowers in response to the city's atmosphere. Well worth checking.
Kirkus Reviews

The exotic (and erotic) aura of Buenos Aires leads Daisy, the narrator, into some murky personal and sexual encounters.

Thirty-five and at the end of a nine-year marriage, Daisy is looking for escape from her aimless life. When a friend helps her get a grant to do a waterworks study project in Argentina, Daisy leaps at the opportunity provided—even though she has no technical knowledge about or understanding of hydraulics. Instead, she uses the money to rent a seedy apartment and finds herself neighbors with a handsome gay gigolo. Daisy also desultorily puts up an ad offering English-speaking lessons and through this offer makes contact with Leonarda, a charismatic and domineering woman who quickly takes Daisy under her wing. (Leonarda doesn't even need English lessons but likes to consort with foreigners.) Also entering the volatile mix is Isolde, who's come to Buenos Aires from Austria and who hopes to make it in the tony art circles of the city. Leonarda loves to play mind games and has developed a scheme—or rather a kind of living theatre production—she calls the Master Plan. This includes crashing parties, thrusting herself into both high and low society and seductively incorporating Daisy into her manipulation of men and sexual relationships. In about equal measure, Daisy finds herself sexually attracted to and morally repelled by Leonarda. When a threesome begins to spin out of control, Daisy takes some time off to go to Uruguay and reflect on...well, how things are spinning out of control. She eventually reaches an equilibrium rather than an understanding of the force of nature that is Leonarda.

Beautifully written, sensual and seductive.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Get to the end of the opening sentence of The Foreigners, Maxine Swann's lush and erotic third novel, and right away, you have to start again.

"The amount of pollen that comes in on travelers' sleeves is vastly disproportionate to the number of species that hold."

That hold? Hold what—the pollen? Maybe, maybe not. What matters is the thought that follows, a brief meditation on the plants that succeed in a strange land and those that fail, a signpost for where the story is headed. An odd start, but The Foreigners isn't so much a narrative as a fever dream, an unsettling rush of actions and impressions. The novel's organizing principle rests not on plot but on the intersecting lives of three women: Daisy, the American divorcée; Leonarda, a seductive Argentine; and Isolde, an Austrian émigré who pops in and out of the story at uneven intervals.

Daisy is our narrator, thirty-five and at loose ends. The failure of her nine-year marriage brought on fainting spells so severe, she moved from the U.S. to Buenos Aires to escape. Though she's launched from a country and circumstance we understand, the adventure she seeks out can't be found in the neatly curated pages of a Fodor's guide.

It's 2002 and Argentina, in the midst of economic collapse, is in dire straits. Inflation is rampant, bank accounts are frozen, and everyone from indigent garbage pickers to the sheltered upper class faces financial ruin. It's from this precipice that Daisy gazes at her new city, and finds herself exhilarated.

The city would abruptly change the subject. I had felt this from the start. You were walking along a smooth Palermo street lined with bars and shops and would suddenly stumble into a wasteland, grass and dirt. Or you looked through a doorway into a huge empty hole. It was an unfinished city, but not only that. It seemed interminable, an interminable job. This was also what I liked.
Soon after renting an apartment in a vast, empty building, Daisy meets the twenty-eight-year-old Leonarda. Wild and enigmatic, Leonarda shows Daisy a hidden Buenos Aires of secret clubs and private parties, seamy side streets and bizarre characters. Daisy follows eagerly, in willing thrall to the gamesmanship of this dangerous girl.

They pick up men and lie about their names and nationalities, invent fictitious pasts. For Daisy, obliteration feels like liberation: "Suddenly, thanks to lying, I detached myself from my biography. Rather than ruminating over things, I forgot about my past." They seduce and then they run, literally, through the darkened streets, the men chasing them down.

Soon enough, it's Daisy chasing Leonarda, who refuses to be caught. Meanwhile, the counterpoint to Daisy's slide into obsession appears to be Isolde, whose cool Austrian beauty has earned her entry into the Argentine elite. But where Daisy seeks out strangeness, Isolde is slowly undone by her outsider status. We're back to the opening sentence here, where one plant takes firm root in foreign soil and the other withers and dies. It's not until the final images of Swann's strange and unsettling novel that you see who has blossomed and who failed to thrive.

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594488306
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/18/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 8.32 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Maxine Swann has been awarded Ploughshares’ Cohen Award for best fiction of the year, an O. Henry Award, and a Pushcart Prize, and her work has been included in The Best American Short Stories of 1998 and 2006. Her first novel, Serious Girls, was published in 2003. Swann, who has lived in Paris and Pakistan, now lives in Buenos Aires.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2012

    Boring

    Was in Argentina while trying to read this. Couldn't keep up an interest in this boring book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2011

    Big, big disappointment - save your money.

    A very misleading Overview for openers; and this followed by a rambling and voyeuristic tale of perverted female sexual behavior.
    Even the descriptive passages of Buenos Aires, possibly one of the most exciting and colorful cities in the hemisphere, fall flat.
    The story line, if one can call it that, was weak and lacked inspiration.
    Save your time and money - pass on this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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