A comic magical-realist parable, this blithe debut novel features a talking (and thinking) parrot and is set in an unspecified time (perhaps the '50s) and South American country (near Argentina). The victims here (they—re too passive to be heroes) are the Romandias, an independently wealthy clan who relax and indulge themselves in the stifling heat of their home city, pointedly named "Aguas Calientes" (one of Weld's best gags). In hot water indeed, the Romandias are put on trial (as objects of "Indictment Number 3,459") by a government that has declared them "superfluous." Their daughter Lita, who was seven at the time, remembers her family's ordeal years later, through a fog of both fever and repressed or impaired memory. Specifically, she recalls their articulate defender, and eventual savior: their irascible, supremely articulate parrot Soraida. Soraida is not just your typical gorgeously feathered scold: she's a sophisticated citizen of the world (nostalgic for the "great cities" of Europe), centuries old and doubtless immortal, both omniscient and clairvoyant, who rapturously quotes Flaubert, Balzac, and Shakespeare, and curses like a sailor. And it's quite likely she, too, has given offense, having labeled the President of the Republic —a whore-mongering, cock-dangling, turd-brained maggot on the cesspool of history." Weld doesn't offer much of a plot: the Romandias persist, even under sentence of death, in their good-natured inertia (asked what they have to say for themselves, they observe that it's time for lunch), and she does not altogether avoid silliness (patriarch Don Armando's dim-witted bluster, the antics of three Judges better suited to be Three Stooges). But this skimpy "novel" works quite well as a farcical lampoon of all too many paramilitary "just" regimes and indolent aristocracies. A witty, amusing romp—and the memorably vituperative Soraida is a rare bird indeed.
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