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 A dazzling metaphorical imagination is energetically displayed in this quirky 1981 novel (now in its first English translation) by an Argentine writer who was also a practicing violinist and music teacher. Moyano (193092) envisions Argentina in the 1960s, when peasant families were kept under house arrest by a ruling military junta, as a nondescript Andean village (Hualacato) whose residents are victimized by percussionists who ride into town on tigers. It's an amusing conceit, which Moyano develops in both musical and other figurative terms (e.g., oppressed citizens rebel by ``tun[ing] their instruments to a different pitch'' or, later, by devising new languages by which to circumvent injunctions against communicating with one another). The host family, as it were, on whom the novel focuses, are the Aballays, whose two most interesting members are their elderly grandfather, a wheelchair-bound raconteur in whose exaggerated tales impossible things routinely occur; and their unusually courageous and intelligent cat Belinda. The Aballays, human and animal alike, are subjected to the paternalistic ministrations of their occupier, known as Nabu: He's a joyless martinet who renames everything and everyone on the premises, confiscates family photographs, and wearies his captives with ``sermons'' in which the family's own worthlessness is contrasted to the percussionist's matchless rectitude and power (``We'll go back and raise the dead to kill them all over again''). The novel's deadly political seriousness is never in question, and its breathless imagery possesses great charm as well as unconstrained ingenuity. But the magical-realist fun and games teeter precariously on the edge of whimsy, and the plotless reiteration of imaginative defenses thrown up against unimaginative repression exposes the novel's essential thinness. Moyano's dislocations of logic and syntax, however, are quite brilliantly rendered by translator di Giovanni. A funny, original book, just good enough to make one wish it had been much better.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 1-85242-174-6
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1995