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 Argentinian writer Kociancich's first US appearance--a novel that echoes both Orwell and Garc°a-M†rquez as it describes with wit and perception a society coerced into conformity. Set in a nameless South American capital, where inflation is rampant and the military strong, the story begins with a brief article by a foreign journalist on the neglected National Theater, which has performed only Shakespeare's Hamlet since the 1920's--an article that sets in motion a campaign known as ``the days of National Reconstruction of Culture.'' The organizers of this campaign, a cabal of military men and bureaucrats, assiduously begin to promote the so-called and yet undefined national culture. The captain in charge announces that ``the end justifies the means. And what are our means? Culture. And what is culture? The very basis of a free and sovereign people.'' The campaign's progress is detailed, in alternating chapters, by a young woman, Renata, writing to an exiled writer in Paris, and by a local writer, the aging Santiago Bonday, who is co-opted by the campaign organizers. A charismatic fanatic, Candini, a former employee of the old theater, is found to address the public, and the campaign, with the fleur-de-lis as its emblem, takes over the country. Renata, in charge of the theater's wardrobe, observes the increasing coercive effects of the campaign: Shakespeare and all his works are banned; so-called Shakespeareans are arrested by a sinister black-clad security force; and there are unexplained deaths of apparently innocent people. Renata is murdered, and Bonday's initial enthusiasm soon turns to fear and he flees the country. At the end, the campaign fails, Shakespeare is restored, but somehow the old guard is still in charge. More satirist than magic-realist (though there are some echoes), Kociancich's remarkable novel goes beyond the conditions of a particular place to serve as warning of the wider dangers of coercion, whatever its objective. An impressive debut.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-10432-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1991