The Latin American literary boom, the powerful emergence of Spanish-language Latin American writers that has had no parallel since the florescence of the Russians in the 19th century, is alive and well and living - in New Jersey.
New Brunswick, N.J., the home of Rutgers University, where Argentine author Tomás Eloy Martínez hangs his hat as director of Latin American studies, is the latest outpost for the Latin American literary effulgence that has been so embraced in the United States since, say, the publication of the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo's "Pedro Páramo" in 1955.
In "The Tango Singer," as in his two previous novels, "Santa Evita" and "The Perón Novel," Martínez's locale is Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, that most surreal of cities, and the map on which he arranges his phantasmagoric players. Martínez, who has lived in the United States since 1982 and in Venezuela before that, in exile from what he calls the "atrocious dictatorship" in his native Argentina, opens this handbook to the inner life of his homeland conventionally enough. His protagonist, Bruno Cadogan, an American who absurdly thinks Buenos Aires must be something like Kuala Lumpur, a modern city with humidity, gets an academic grant to go to the South American city to hunt for a hard-to-find tango singer believed to be the best ever, better even than the legendary Carlos Gardel. Swiftly we enter a dream country where reality slides into something reminiscent of the work of Czech author Franz Kafka and, above all, Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who is a central if spectral figure in "Tango."
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