Tuesday, June 05, 2007
translated by Peter Bush. NY: Akashic Books, 2007.
The tango is a fascinating dance requiring sure-footed twists, turns, and other intricate moves by a pair of dancers. Daniel Chavarria’s novel, Tango for a Torturer, offers the same kind of plot, filled with twists, turns and intricate moves. And, just as dancing the tango is a lot of fun, reading Tango for a Torturer likewise offers a ton of fun.
Set in Cuba at the turn of the century (2000), Chavarria reaches thirty years into the past, to the depraved policies that infected parts of South America in a series of dictatorial regimes whose accused revolutionaries and political opponents disappeared into police custody. In some cases, the children of the disappeared were adopted by their parents’ torturers. Interested readers will find a large list of titles that address the period.
If anyone deserves revenge out of that era, Chavarria posits, it’s victims of these monsters. Meet Aldo Bianchi, the victim of his own unforgettable monster, Orlando Ortega Ortiz, “Triple O.” Aldo and his wife were imprisoned and tortured by OOO. The woman was gang raped and suffered agonizing sexual torture before being killed by a cattle prod. Aldo, a wealthy man, was forced to watch. Then, Ortega humiliates and sodomizes Aldo, finally extorting a hefty chunk of money from Aldo and releases the victim.
As the regimes came crashing down, Triple O escaped behind bodyguards and his wealth. But Aldo finds “Captain Horror”, another of Ortega’s handles, and, after two failed sniper attacks, loses track of the torturer. Until one day in Havana, Aldo hears two prostitutes laughing when one of the women says a word that had been OOO’s favorite expletive. From this chance meeting, Aldo engages the whore Bini to help him track down Triple O, who calls himself Alberto Rios. Rios, a rich Argentinian businessman living in sybaritic luxury in Havana, is one of Bini’s regular customers.
Readers of Chavarria’s highly recommended first novel, Adios Muchachos, will enjoy a remarkably comedic crime caper. In Tango for a Torturer, there’s little comedy. Getting even with a torturer is deadly serious business. Every step toward the success of the plan faces tension-building obstacles. Will Rios/Ortega escape once again owing to his money, his political connections, his sheer brutality? Will Aldo’s and Bini’s luck run out? The tension builds to almost intolerable heights.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a useful reminder for book browsers. The blurb on the back cover describes Aldo and Teresita as Argentine revolutionaries. How odd, and misleading. Aldo’s bitter irony is that he and Teresa were not revolutionaries, the “legitimate” targets of the regime. Ortega insults Teresa on the street, hotheaded Aldo responds in outrage and kicks Triple O in the balls. A trained karate expert—Ortega both attended and taught at the School of the Americas and similar US military/CIA training courses—Ortega recovers quickly and thrashes Aldo before taking him and Teresa into custody. The couple’s abduction, murder, and torture occurs totally out of random coincidence, and the couple simply served for O to have a little fun.
Tango for a Torturer makes an excellent companion to other torture-themed works. I recommend reading Chavarria and two others, Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden and Lawrence Thornton’s Imagining Argentina. In Thornton’s book, a husband goes in search of his disappeared wife, in the process revealing horrors such as sexual torture and child-stealing. Dorfman’s brings a torture victim face to face with her torturer, a guest in her own home.
Peter Bush provides a highly readable translation that makes the novel’s 340 pages move swiftly. I do wonder what the Spanish phrases must be for the frequent iterations of “fuck”. There’s lots of (relatively) innocent sex and only a little gore. As a result, the squeamish reader won’t find much to avoid, yet the pruriently motivated reader won’t find a enough to slake that thirst. Everyone else will find this, and several other Akashic Books titles, exciting finds that they’ll be anxious to share with friends.
In fact, Manuel Ramos already has. See Manuel's review of Tango here.
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