A complex international scenario of journalism, disinformation, and espionage unfolds through interweaving narratives of fictional characters and historical figures. Greg and Julio, an American and Mexican journalist, respectively, whose ``four hands'' often combine for high-quality investigative stories, are, perhaps, the heroes of this tale. But Alex, the borderline-sane head of the SD (Shit Department), a covert US agency devoted to spreading complex disinformation plots, is an attractive tyrant. His ``Operation Dream of Snow White'' is aimed at discrediting a high-ranking Sandinista. The plan must also satisfy Alex's brilliant sense of the absurd: Alex ``had a Sandinista commander, an astonishing Bulgarian, a Mexican drug dealer, some journalists, an Australian prostitute, a Congress of partisan writers, a murder....'' Taibo (Some Clouds, 1992, etc.) knits further complexities: The story begins when film comedian Stan Laurel witnesses the death of Pancho Villa; a journalistic award Laurel subsequently co-founds with Julio's grandfather will come into play many years later; Greg and Julio are working on a story about Leon Trotsky's recently discovered unfinished detective novel; Houdini visits his therapist (he sees a headless vision of his mother with discomfiting regularity); and chapters such as ``Elena Jordan's Second Rejected Thesis Proposal'' provide hilarious jabs at academia. The Mexican Taibo has been compared to Garc°a M†rquez for both his odd happenings and his mastery of craft. But there is nothing ``magical'' about the odd events and characters included. The novel is only slightly stranger than, say, the Iran-Contra affair, and more closely resembles Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Taibo mercilessly lampoons American imperialism, with all its dirty tricks; the comedic pace rarely slows. But sometimes the prose rises, impassioned, as when it describes the Sandinista revolution. All the while the work sustains diverse, bizarre, and ultimately believable characters. Praise to translator Dail—the rhythms are distinctively American, accurately conveying Taibo's keen view of his northern neighbor's overhanging belly.
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