The ""Generaliss,"" the ""Dead Woman,"" the ""Intruder""--such characters lead a reader to realize that Valenzuela is writing about Argentina and the Perons. (Juan, cultadored Eva, and dim Isobel.) Yet when the narrative here doesn't refer to the Perons--or to a ruling military junta--things move far more murkily: the primary character of this phantasm-nightmare of a political allegory is someone known as ""The Sorcerer"" (or ""the Papoose, Eulogio, Estrella, Six-fingers, the witchdog"") who rules over the independent Kingdom of the Black Lagoon. The Sorcerer is an hermaphrodite with three testicles who wishes to self-propagate through the middle one (named Estrella); an ex-minister, he is considered by the ruling powers a menace to their rule. After all, whether stealing the embalmed finger of the ""Dead Woman"" or banishing all mirrors from the Kingdom or building a huge human pyramid, the Sorcerer holds thousands of cultists in sway. (When a small village, Capiravi, resists, the villagers are put through demonic pains.) And, with its elements of super-mythicism, morbid religious irony, and authorial interruption (which offers a few contemporary dimensions), Valenzuela's novel has a thick intensity which is impressive. But while Argentine readers may be able to go beneath the opaque surfaces here, few Americans will probably do so--as they come smack up against a wall of grotesquerie, shamanism, and downright unintelligibility. Intriguing, difficult work of very limited appeal.