USELESSNESS by Eduardo Lalo


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A young artist occupies Paris and San Juan without ever becoming a true citizen of either place.

Following the English translation of Simone (2015, etc.) comes this translation of Lalo’s 2004 autobiographical novel. The unnamed first-person narrator is a writer of Puerto Rican heritage living in Paris and half-heartedly studying at university. He’s on the downslide of a poisonous relationship with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Marie, a mentally distressed young woman. In many ways, the novel is a chronicle of disappointment and regret, as much about the passage of time as it is about coming to terms with one’s own choices. The writer bounces between Marie, who later attempts suicide, and Simone, a lover who is much kinder but inspires less passion in him. Eventually, he decides to leave Paris and return home. “I couldn’t entirely justify, in words, my decision to leave Paris,” he writes. “It was something I will never be able to completely understand—perhaps associated with the lost and eternal world of childhood.” The second half of the book chronicles the remainder of the writer’s life in Puerto Rico, which is just as bleak and regretful as his earlier years. He finds some solace in mentoring a troubled poet and some comradeship with a dying professor, but ultimately, there’s not much resolution or reconciliation to be had. “That is my story,” he tells us. “I do not know how much of it is true, or how much I have rationalized my defects and weaknesses. But I do know that coming home to Puerto Rico was more important than all my travels. I don’t think it was merely a fleeing, an escape, but that no longer matters. Paris (or any other place) has ceased to be Paris. I have no more trips left to take.”

A compellingly written but emotionally barren travelogue by a lost soul.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-226-20779-7
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2017


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