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Brazilian novelist PiÑon, in her second novel (The Republic of Dreams, 1989) to appear in English, describes a leisurely paced encounter between illusion and reality in a Brazilian backwater in thrall to its dreams. When a letter arrives announcing the return of Caetana, a beautiful circus-star and actress, the small town of Trindade is caught up in a frenzy of anticipation. For 20 years the townspeople, who have survived by feeding on ""the bread of lies, the one warmth that fights off loneliness,"" have dreamt of such a day. Polidoro, the rich cattle-baron, has endured his wife's recriminations by remembering the great love affair he had with Caetana; Giaconda, owner of the local brothel, has similarly been helped by memories of Caetana's friendship; and the lonely misfits, like historian Virgilio, and the ""Three Graces""--the aging prostitutes of the brothel--have found a vicarious pleasure in imagining the happiness that Caetana's return will bring. Caetana, who has nurtured her own dreams, duly arrives, but reality turns out to be thin stuff. Refusing to resume their love affair, Caetana asks only that Polidoro build a theater for her so that she can give a performance to rival that of Maria Callas. The long-awaited performance is a fiasco, shattering everyone's dreams and illusions--but only briefly. For though Caetana leaves abruptly, she promises to come back in another 20 years--""Life to her was suitable only for the stage. Outside this domain everything seemed false""--and the town settles down once more to wait for ""the train of happiness to pull in."" An insightful meditation on myth and reality, with all the ennui of provincial life vividly evoked, and marred only by the occasional repetitiveness in the telling. But a welcome addition to the Latin American canon.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1992
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Knopf