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Spanish Lit Month: Tango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarría

Tango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarría (2002) French title: Le rouge sur la plume du perroquet. Translated by Jacques-François Bonaldi. Original Spanish title: El rojo en la pluma del loro.

Chavarria_frenchTango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarría is my second read for Spanish Lit Month. I wonder why the English title isn’t the exact translation of the original one, like in French. It is actually The red on a parrot’s feather. It is a cryptic title but it is explained by the end of the book. I’ve had this one on the shelf for a while and Spanish Lit Month was a perfect opportunity to read it and contribute to Richard’s and Stu’s event and add to my #TBR20 project. A way to kill two parrots with one stone.

Aldo Bianchi is an Argentinean from the Italian diaspora in Argentina. He emigrated to Italy during the Argentinean dictatorship and now owns a profitable construction business in Italy. His business brings him to Cuba where he falls in lust with a voluptuous prostitute, Bini. She has a child’s mind in a woman’s body and Aldo appears to be infatuated. His friends Gonzalo and Aurelia are worried about him. They are also Argentinean and live near Aldo in Italy. They knew his ex-wife and his breakup and they are afraid to see Aldo in the claws of a gold digger who could never adjust to Aldo’s life and circle in Italy.

Aurelia organizes Gonzalo’s sixtieth birthday party in Cuba. Aldo attends the party with Bini who eventually meets his friends. But more importantly, he gets the confirmation that Alberto Ríos and Triple-O are one person. And Aldo has a score to settle with Triple-O. He wants justice for the past.

Indeed, Triple-O is from Uruguay and he was a sadistic torturer during the Uruguayan dictatorship and then moved his activities to Argentina. He was trained by the CIA and ran a sinister secret prison in Buenos Aires. He was a brutal torturer, taking pleasure in torturing and killing people. He’s now hiding in Cuba under a fake identity.

But Aldo recognizes him and will plan his revenge thoroughly to be sure he won’t miss him.

chavarria_englishTango for a Torturer unfolds Aldo’s plan to frame and catch Triple-O. It is a fantastic crime fiction novel with the reality of the Condor Operation and the Dirty Wars as a background. I only know the basics about the history of Latin America in the 1970s and early 1980s. There were useful footnotes in my paperback and I went to Wikipedia afterwards. Triple-O’s activities are true to life. The details are based upon what really happened even if the names are slightly changed. Chavarría is a former Tupamaro, he knows what he’s writing about.

The book is focused of Aldo’s plan but there are also a lot of descriptions of Triple-O’s life under his Alberto Ríos identity. When you know exactly the extent of Triple-O’s horrific actions, it is unsettling to see him live a normal life. He’s not remorseful at all and he lives a comfortable life out of the money he stole from his victims. All he cares about is being safe and healthy. He knows hitmen are after him for his past but he feels safe in Cuba and enjoys himself. On the contrary, Aldo stills suffers from the aftermath of the torture. He’s successful and rich but never recovered from his past. And honestly, how could he? And this difference in their peace of mind points out the injustice of it all or maybe just shows who’s the better human.

I read that Tango for a Torturer has the same frame as Le Comte de Monte Cristo, a book that Chavarría admires. I didn’t notice it, probably because Cuba is so far away from France that it never occurred to me to look for a French reference. But the two books do have similar storylines.

It could have been a bleak book but it’s not, probably because it is set in Cuba and the setting breathes life into the story. It prevents the book from becoming only a man hunt and a cold revenge. Bini’s character and her family bring Cuba into the plot. Bini is a bit of a scatterbrain. She loves to drive even if she doesn’t have a license and she has her way to make men lend her the wheel. She’s full of life, with no education or manners. She’s dirty poor, her parents didn’t give a damn about her and she had to fend for herself from a very young age. She enjoys sex, goes after men, after what she wants. She’s also very religious and Chavarría gives details about religious beliefs in Cuba. He also describes the landscape, the climate and Havana. All this contributes to turn the book into something more than a classic crime fiction novel.

This is a tremendous read. The plot is well-constructed, it’s educational, lively and it has a purpose. It made me want to read about the Dirty Wars and know more about what happened. It also means that here, in the pages of this crime novel, lies a memorial to all the innocent people who died and disappeared under these brutal dictatorships.

I owe this one to Guy (again!) and his review is here.

PS: This is the second time this year that I read a book linked to Argentina’s history. The other one was Three Horses by Erri de Luca.

 

  1. July 24, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I wonder if the English title is so the people would realise it has something to do with Argentina! Always point out the obvious! Kind of gives away the whole plot, too, doesn’t it? I much prefer the French title (which I suppose is a literal translation of the Spanish language one?). Sounds like an absorbing read. Again, books about dictatorships always intrigue me.

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    • July 24, 2016 at 9:14 am

      It’s probably better for marketing.
      Yes, the French title is the translation of the original, that’s why I know it’s the accurate one.

      It is a fantastic book with all the right ingredients. It’s intelligent, suspenseful, well-written with a great sense of place.
      Lucky me, there are several of his titles translated into French. I know a voracious reader who’ll love it.

      Like

      • July 24, 2016 at 9:15 am

        But the cover of the English edition! And I saw an even worse cover on Goodreads just now.

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        • July 24, 2016 at 9:16 am

          I know. This cover makes it look like a cheap roman de gare.
          The French one is a lot better. It’s published by Rivages Noir, an excellent reference for crime fiction.

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          • July 24, 2016 at 9:25 am

            Just noticed quite a few of my polars are from Rivages Noir…

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  2. July 24, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Killing two parrots with one stone – I like that. It sounds like a top read from an author whose name is completely new to me. Definitely one for the list. I like the English title, but can see what you mean about the translation.

    The Dirty War is a great backdrop for a crime story. If you’re interested in trying another novel that draws on the same context, you might want to take a look at Eduardo Sacheri’s The Secret in Their Eyes. It was my favourite crime read of last year – I picked it up following Guy’s characteristically excellent review a couple of years back. It doesn’t go into a lot of detail about the War itself, but the political context does have a significant role to play in the story.

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    • July 24, 2016 at 10:40 am

      I’ve added The Secret in their Eyes on my virtual TBR.
      This one’s the same: there is no detail about the war, just what’s relevant to understand the characters’ past.
      It’s well written.

      Like

  3. Col
    July 24, 2016 at 10:47 am

    In spite of that cover I’m intrigued by this ( and Secret In Their Eyes). I read several books of Spanish Lit last year and it got me then reading about Spanish Civil War and Franco. I have to confess I know very little about The Dirty Wars but am interested to know more. Will definitely add this and Jacqui’s recommendation to my reading list.

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    • July 24, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      Hello,
      Welcome to Book Around The Corner and thanks for commenting.

      This is a fascinating book because it’s multi-layered. Good story, interesting background, well drawn characters. I hope you’ll like it.

      I’ll be reading a book about the Spanish Civil War in November. Our Book Club picked one this year.

      Like

      • Col
        July 25, 2016 at 1:46 pm

        I’d first read of Civil War in Javier Cercas’ Soldiers of Salamis that I loved. From there via couple of other novels I then read Anthony Beevor’s Battle For Spain which filled in a number of the holes in my knowledge and understanding!

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        • July 26, 2016 at 8:46 pm

          Cercas is a writer I want to try. Thanks for the recommendation.

          Like

  4. July 24, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    This sounds really interesting. I’ve just read Ricardo Piglia’s Target in the Night and I’m now reading Manuel Puig’s The Buenos Aires Affair – both Argentinian novels which use the creme genre to do more than you might expect.

    Like

    • July 24, 2016 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations, Grant, I’ll check them out.

      Like

  5. July 24, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Thanks for the mention Emma: this one was published by a small independent publisher over here and never got much attention. I still think about this book years later…
    And Jacqui’s suggestion of The Secret in their Eyes .. you’d love that one too.

    Like

    • July 24, 2016 at 9:01 pm

      I liked the question you raised in your billet: how do the victims live after that and what kind of justice can there be to repair this? The trials don’t seem enough compared to the sufferance of the victims. But they must take place to officially acknowledge the victims and say out loud that it was criminal.

      I put The Secret in their Eyes on my virtual TBR.

      Like

  6. July 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    He’s poorly served for covers. It does sound tremendous, as it did with Guy’s review too which I just went and read. It’s a bit pricy in the UK but I’ll add it to my virtual TBR. I’ll probably read the Erri de Luca first though (not that there’s any stylistic connection, but subject matter relates as you note).

    Like

    • July 26, 2016 at 8:57 pm

      The American cover is atrocious and misleading, which is terrible for the author. I prefer the French one but maybe it just means that French marketers are good: their cover appeal to the French reader!
      There’s a paperback for £8.99, a newer edition. The cover is even worse but well, it’s cheaper. 🙂

      I think you’d like both the De Luca and the Chavarria.

      Like

      • July 28, 2016 at 11:13 am

        The French cover is good, though it doesn’t give many clues to the nature of the book. I saw the paperback and have added it to an Amazon list.

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        • July 28, 2016 at 10:32 pm

          You’re right, the nature of the book is not on the cover, just in the publisher’s name Rivages Noir. A French reader recognizes their type of books.

          Like

  1. November 29, 2016 at 1:13 am

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