TRAVELS WITH MY FATHER: A South American Journey by Daniel & Feliks Topolski Topolski

TRAVELS WITH MY FATHER: A South American Journey

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Lots of travels, not much father. In 1980 British photographer Daniel (with some BBC-film backup) decided to tour the South American continent in depth, accompanied--now and then--by his artist-father Feliks, 73. However, despite some powerful drawings and a handful of short prose-contributions (one intriguing meditation on banners, uniforms, and monuments), Feliks is a barely visible presence here, only occasionally joining in Daniel's treks--which concentrate largely on politics and red-light districts. He starts out in Paraguay, where--in the wake of the Somoza assassination--he's arrested by Stroessner's secret police (a roundup of foreigners), released after a harrowing few days. Then it's on to ""huge, plush"" Buenos Aires, hearing criticism of the Videla regime. Next, after a hop down to Tierra del Fuego, comes Chile under the junta: a transvestites' club in Santiago; a government-supervised filming expedition; disappointing sightseeing (""archaeological overkill""). But Bolivia is a welcome change from ""the aspiring European-ness of the southern cone""--vital, colorful, unreliable. And there are similarly mixed views of Peru (cockfighting, tourists, jarring poor/rich contrasts); mellow, gentle Ecuador; dangerous yet stimulating Bogota (""I liked Colombia, even though they kept arresting me, and even though I had to chain all my belongings to me""); the Amazon, with the ""hustling loveless sexiness"" of Manaus; and Daniel's favorite country, Brazil--with ""that black African/Portuguese magic,"" that ""burgeoning joie de vivre,"" those samba schools and that Rio carnival. Throughout, Daniel talks to students, journalists, officials, and passersby about politics, the police, the peasants. (Common to all countries: ""that uneasy sense of threat, of a population muzzled and in thraldom."") He travels by all the conventional means (like Paul Theroux, he Finds them mostly grim), also doing a bit of rough hitchhiking. He muses on the ""Latin"" personality, on the brio of South American women. And he has casual sexual encounters with classy types and prostitutes--winding up ""in an enchanting range of hedonistic exercises"" with an hermaphroditic transvestite in Rio. (One reviewer of this book, who called it ""pleasant"" and ""old-fashioned,"" obviously read little more than the book-jacket.) Much of the description is vivid, crisp, good-humored. The range of locales is impressive. But the political material is seriously dated, and (despite the father/son premise) there's nothing to give these uneven closeups shape or point.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles