Tango Through the Wreckage
Anyone who, like me is fascinated by tango music, particularly its old school singers, as well as by Jorge Luis Borges, and contemporary Buenos Aires, should have a look at Tomas Eloy Martinez’s The Tango Singer (published by Bloomsbury in the UK). Even better than his last novel, Saint Evita, Martinez’s latest begins in Buenos Aires in 2001 with inflation spiralling out of control, and the city on the verge of chaos. Arriving in the city is Bruno, in search of an elusive tango singer who is supposedly better than Gardel. Bruno is writing a Ph.D. thesis on Borges and interested in tango singers and songs that Borges refers to, and which were written during his era. . Upon arrival in Buenos Aires Bruno meets El Tucomano who takes him to a boarding house where Borges set his story The Aleph. Bruno finds that in Buenos Aires nothing is as it seems, words appear before the things they represent, streets change names overnight, and the shape of the city is altered as much by those who inhabit it as by corrupt city planners, politics and poverty. I read The Tango Singer at the same time as the thought provoking Planet of Slums (Verso) by my friend Mike Davis, a book that indicates in no uncertain terms that the world is even worse off than you can possibly imagine. Davis provides some mind boggling statistics, as he takes the reader through the world's urban underside, including Buenos Aires. It's a sober read. For starters, from 1950 to 2004, the population of Buenos Aires has increased from 4.6 million to 12.6. But that's nothing compared to Mexico City which has gone from 2.9 in 1950 to 22.1 in 2004. But that’s the most obvious bit of Davis's book. It goes far wider and much deeper than that. In any case, Davis corroborates what Martinez hints at in his novel, that thanks to internal and external political decisions, Buenos Aires has altered over the years, leading to poverty, economic disaster, unrest and discontent. Both books are essential reading (and perhaps should be accomapnied by viewing Naomi Klein's documentary The Take). By the way, while on the subject of Latin American, where are all the novels written about contemporary Lima? I know they exist, but not in translation.
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