The buoyant Neuman (The Things We Don't Do, 2015, etc.) takes readers on a phantasmagoric journey through Latin America.
Though this travelogue may not provide much substance for fellow travelers, it is nevertheless a virtuoso demonstration of writing on the fly. After winning one of the Spanish-speaking world’s most lauded awards, the Premio Alfaguara, Neuman was sent on a massive 19-country tour that took him from his home in Argentina to far-flung appearances across Latin America. The writing is clever, light, and self-aware in a way that most travelogues are not. “An assembly of vertigos, countries, readings, glances on the fly. Latin America in transit. Are you on board?” the writer asks. The translation by Lawrence is spot-on, but because the book dates to the author’s 2010 tour, many of the references are dated. At the time, Latin America was wracked by the H1N1 virus, and this pandemic is fundamental in Neuman’s account. “Am I fleeing the flu or following its trail?” he asks. There are also musings on the last days of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and observations on other Spanish writers, but for the most part, Neuman is present in the moment and highly observant, catching little details that might have escaped other writers. In Bogotá, he was told, “the devil is scarier here in Columbia than anywhere else.” Miami, conversely, is “a widespread, throbbing sensuality. A chromatic elasticity in the skin. A trace of the gym in every navel. Cars, sandals, money.” To read this book produces an electrically fleeting feeling, but it seems that for the author, that’s kind of the point. “The feeling of having left something someplace,” he writes toward the end. “That we leave something everywhere we go, in addition to taking something with us.”
A dizzying, evanescent snapshot of Latin America in all its grime and glory.