Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE TATTOOED SOLDIER by Héctor Tobar

THE TATTOOED SOLDIER

By Héctor Tobar

Pub Date: June 10th, 1998
ISBN: 1-883285-15-1
Publisher: Delphinium

California journalist Tobar’s disturbing debut neatly and credibly brings two Guatemalan adversaries together by chance on the streets of Los Angeles, where they play out the endgame of a deadly struggle begun in their homeland. Antonio, once a middle-class government worker in his native land, is now homeless in L.A., having seven years ago just missed the death squad that came for him but instead killed his wife and young son. His despair and shame at having fled have never left him, but when one day he glimpses a Jaguar tattoo on the arm of a chess player in MacArthur Park, recognizing one of his family’s killers, Antonio knows a new feeling: vengeance. The ex-soldier Longoria, as yet unaware that he’s being stalked, goes about his highly regimented routine, striving to better himself at chess while holding down a security job at a crooked Guatemalan parcel service and keeping his small apartment--where he has a collection of photos of his victims--spotless. Antonio, all but invisible as a homeless man, studies his enemy carefully, then decides to act. But his plan to attack the sergeant at the chess tables with a length of pipe, in broad daylight, is ill-conceived and goes awry. Only wounded, Longoria is now wary, but Antonio doesn’t give up. He buys a gun with the help of a homeless friend, and, in the chaos of the South Central riots that erupt soon after, the hunter and his prey meet again in a confrontation that is protracted but decisive—and through it Antonio is finally able to put his shame to rest. Tobar’s characters are thin, but his tale not only vividly reenacts the horror of death-squad victims everywhere, but also sheds an honest and even light on the stark realities facing the homeless—and many immigrants—in America.