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by Juan Bonilla & translated by Esther Allen

Pub Date: July 7th, 2006
ISBN: 0-8050-7781-2
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

The international sex trade becomes the unlikely source of an ironic metamorphosis in the prizewinning Spanish newspaper columnist and author’s 2003 novel (his first in English translation).

Its narrator, 22-year-od Moisés Froissard, abandons an unfulfilling life in Seville and the uncomfortable embrace of his troubled parents, accepting a job as a “scout” for Club Olympus. Portraying itself as a humanitarian relief organization that “rescues” Third World emigrants and refugees from poverty and homelessness, the Club is—as Moisés’s boss, Carmen T. (aka “the Doctor”), explains—a clearinghouse for beautiful women and men, employed as “models” servicing wealthy clients. Moisés warms to his task, forming volatile relationships with gorgeous Albanian model-turned-scout Ludmila, Mauritanian beauty Irène and succulent boytoy Emilio (who introduces Moisés to same-sex pleasures). Sent with Ludmila from the Club’s Barcelona headquarters to the southern Spanish city of Malaga, Moisés endures tropical heat mingled with the overpowering stench of uncollected garbage, while venturing into dangerous streets in search of “the Nubian”—a perfect male specimen coveted for business (and perhaps other) purposes by the sexually avaricious Doctor. The narrative dawdles for too many pages as Moisés considers the logistics and morality of the career that seems to have chosen him. But Bonilla picks up the pace when a tip sends Moisés and Ludmila to an “extreme fighting” arena where the Nubian (a refugee from civil and religious strife in his native Sudan) attracts dumbstruck adoration for his sculpted body and smoldering demeanor, and dominates his sport as an emotionlessly efficient killing machine. The scouts fulfill their mission, but Moisés reaps what he has sown, with a vengeance, and, as the story moves with increasing swiftness toward its conclusion, experiences a change of mind and heart that is simultaneously his humbling and his delayed maturity.

Not exactly effortlessly readable, but a skillful treatment of its unusual and tricky subject.