Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Tango Singer by Tomas Eloy Martinez

Madonna performed it in Evita. Sally Potter directed it in The Tango Lesson. Hundreds, mainly women of uncertain age, dance it across British cities. And the Argentines, who claim to have choreographed it - although the roots lie in the male partnerships of Cuban sailors improvising on the rhythms of the habañera - have written about it. Even Borges's brief "History of the Tango" opens by paying homage to the many histories that precede his. And British visitors to La Boca (the port where tango emerged) write glamorous accounts of their encounters.

Tomas Eloy Martinez takes a less glamorous approach. The novelist is interested in tango's myth and mystique, related through the lyrics rather than the movements of this lament that balances on a knife-edge between consummate control and intense passion. As with The Peron Novel and Santa Evita, The Tango Singer is about the Buenos Aires of his youth, before a right-wing bomb ousted Martinez from his newspaper and brought exile in the US.

The eponymous singer is Julio Martel, discovered by a North American PhD student during a chance conversation with the cultural historian Jean Franco. Again, this mingling of actual and fictitious protagonists belongs to a Latin American genre of "meta-historical fiction".

You can find the full review here

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