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.
Tango 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.
Tango 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.