The male characters in Manrique's latest (after Latin Moon in Manhattan and Colombian Gold) crossdress as easily as they cross borders to assume European and American lives without fully eliminating the vestiges of their Colombian backgrounds. A young writer who has left a city in Colombia to seek his fortune in Madrid, Barcelona and New York, Santiago Martinez often finds himself wistful for his hometown, which he remembers as a lush tropical, peaceful paradise instead of the drug-ridden and politically claustrophobic society it is. Told in episodic chapters (many of which were published as short stories), the novel hits a variety of tones: there's the concupiscence and pathos of young bohemian gay love as young Santiago sells his blood and hustles his body to pay the rent; and there's the powerful melancholy when Santiago, now older and teaching in New York, witnesses a young student's slow demise. This eloquent work, like its characters, has more in common with stoic American literary traditions than its ardent Latin counterparts. It draws upon the American voice of loneliness and a soul at once adrift yet locked into the United States. In the title story, Santiago returns briefly to Colombia and concludes: "Coming back home had freed me from the tyranny of dreaming of returning to the sullied paradise I had left as a boy, for which now I could cease to yearn." Much more than the semi-autobiographical story the novel claims to be, this boisterous and tragic work addresses issues of solitude, exile and self-discovery with generous feeling and honest emotion. (Mar.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Poet and novelist Manrique (Latin Moon in Manhattan, 1992, etc.) returns with further tales of Santiago (Sammy) Martinez, a gay Colombian writer/filmmaker tormented by past and present horrors despite his picaresque, cosmopolitan life.
In the first of five sections, Sammy is living an impoverished, bohemian life in the homophobic Madrid of the '70s. Cadging meals, raptly watching Pasolini movies, and posing as a Texan to get English-teaching jobs, he falls in love first with a naive, devoted teenaged boy and then with a worldly friend from Colombia. But Sammy's true purpose is to become "the Colombian Sylvia Plath"; and in a frantic two weeks, he writes a violent, surrealistic novel designed to shock his family. Manrique's narrative takes a turn for the bizarre as we are plunged into a long, dreamlike fiction-within-a-fiction, apparently part of Sammy's work. In Sammy's tale, a farcically aristocratic Colombian diplomat smothers his dying father, whose body is stolen from the funeral parlor during the raucous, sex-and-death-suffused atmosphere of Carnival. Some autobiographical links between Sammy and his creation become apparent in subsequent sections, as Sammy explores his own feelings about illness, family, and his native country. Many years later, he finds work as a film professor in New York. Working on a documentary about the homeless, he can only watch helplessly as a brilliant student succumbs to crack addiction while chronicling his self-destruction in a film inspired by Kafka's "Hunger Artist." In the last major episode here, Sammy finally returns to Colombia. As he visits friends and family, Sammy confronts Colombia's tumultuous politics, remembers past events both joyous and terrible, and uncovers his druglord uncle's brutal history.
The material is dark and the narrative disjointed, but Manrique handles his complicated story with deftness and ready humor. A powerful take on various forms of violence, suicide, political repression, sexual abuse, and the possibility of transcending them through love and art.