Thursday, February 28, 2008

Antonio Skármeta: The Dancer and the Thief

Joan Frank reviews Antonio Skármeta's The Dancer and the Thief.
"The Dancer and the Thief" is Skármeta's valentine for Chile's exhausted human capital, the lost, the loose, the marginalized. A shrewd awareness is at work here, one that does not preclude joy, but owes much to the bittersweet comprehensions of the tango. "Suicide was an undignified act," Gray muses, walking along the Mapocho. One cool nod is given to Chileans with money: "On Friday afternoons, the wealthy who own beach houses leave for the coast." Everyone else in this story is poor, hungry and cold; when food appears, it's embraced like a lover.

"[H]e knew he could devour at least two, maybe three, of those completos 'with everything' [...] hot dogs, nestled in fluted rolls [...] piled high with a leaning tower of mashed avocado, chopped tomatoes, a thin, long line of El Copihue hot sauce, a pile of pickled cabbage - German-style - and crowned with a feverish delight of mayonnaise and mustard. These sandwiches begged to be downed in two bites that left the front of your shirt covered with the unstable ingredients and your face smeared all the way up to your eyebrows with a voluptuous carnival of flavors."

"A voluptuous carnival of flavors" summarizes Skármeta's enterprise, with its now breathless, now sardonic sensibility; its deft jabs at bureaucracy and academic rigidity; impassioned invocations of art and artists; jubilant sex and sexuality. And its funny, solemn pronouncements: "I may be a thief, but I'm not a pimp," Gray sniffs. Shaping a fond, brave, modern fable from authentic, anguished history, Skármeta has cooked up a completo.
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