EL YANQUI by Douglas Unger


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Unger (Leaving the Land, 1984) once again fixes his characters in a dramatic social and historical context--this time, Argentina in the late 60's. The resulting narrative hurtles along with the rush of revolutionary politics and the tension of life in a police state. An undistinguished, middle-class hippie from Long Island lucks out in a big way, winning a full scholarship to finish high school at a fancy Catholic prep school in Buenos Aires. James, ""Diego"" to his adopted family and ""El Yanqui"" to his new friends, quickly transforms himself into the kind of ""uppercruster"" the Beneventos expect him to be--an elegant young man accustomed to servants and underwhelmed by the family's endless flow of cash his way. Most willing to forget the America he's left behind--the one which sent his older brother to Viet Nam, among other things--this displaced rebel, who doesn't ""know beans"" about Argentine politics, eventually gets swept up in the left-wing Peronist youth movement. Beaten-up and arrested, this naive American sees up close the escalating police violence and the increasing terror on the fight. Wise and understanding ""Papa"" Beneventos manages to clean up after his young charge's screw-ups, and sends him to cool his heels at the family ranch deep in country. Out on the pampas among the gauchos he imitates, the innocent abroad loses his virginity, and learns to value nature over the transient things of city life. But a strange letter from his drag-crazed brother spurs James stateside, and he heads home for less dangerous battles--the relatively trivial conflicts of an American family torn apart by the 60's. The relentless honesty here, which distinguishes this powerful novel from the coy realism of much contemporary fiction, accounts for the disappointingly abrupt ending, but not for the truly formulaic epilogue.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Harper & Row