Friday, December 24, 2010
Review of No Place for Heroes
From one of the most accomplished writers to emerge from Latin America, No Place for Heroes is a darkly comic novel about a mother and son who return to Buenos Aires in search of her former lover, whom she met during Argentina’s Dirty War. During Argentina’s “Dirty War” of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Lorenza and Ramon, two passionate militants opposing Videla’s dictatorship, met and fell in love. Now, Lorenza and her son, Mateo, have come to Buenos Aires to find Ramon, Mateo’s father. Holed up in the same hotel room, mother and son share a common goal, yet are worlds apart on how they perceive it. For Lorenza, who came of age in the political ferment of the ’60s, it is intertwined with her past ideological and emotional anchors (or were they illusions?), while her postmodernist son, a child of the ’90s who couldn’t care less about politics or ideology, is looking for his actual father—not the idea of a father, but the Ramon of flesh and blood. Anything goes as this volatile pair battle it out: hilarious misunderstandings, unsettling cruelty, and even a temptation to murder. In the end, they begin to come to a more truthful understanding of each other and their human condition. No Place for Heroes is an addition to that long tradition of the eternal odd couple—in works ranging from Waiting for Godot to Kiss of the Spider Woman—waiting for their fortunes to change, written by one of the most talented and internationally celebrated authors at work today.
I am of two-minds about this book. This is probably due to the fact that there are three stories going on at once—the main story, and two main flashback-stories. The flashbacks are wonderfully crafted, as the narrator reflects on past events with the occasional dialogue interruption from the two MCs in the present. Not only that, but those story-lines are gripping, and things HAPPEN. Unfortunately, the "present" time of the story involves only reminiscing for about 98% of the time, and feels like a gimmick to reveal the flashback stories. The final 5 pages feel rushed, as if the author realized that something needed finally to happen in the "present" and threw together a quick, unsurprising ending. I'm giving this 3 stars on Goodreads because of how much I did enjoy the flashbacks, but that's all.
Also, a note on translation. This book was originally written in Spanish, a language I can moderately read and understand. The translations feel like Spanish with English words, which simply make the English feel full of choppy or run-on sentences. I even noticed the occasional Spanish noun-adjective word order, which is only confusing when rendered in English. Finally, the translator changed all the swearing to some of the strongest of English, which I don't believe properly carry the meaning of the words in Spanish, and felt jarring in the prose. Don't get me wrong—I love a good swear word in my reading and my own writing, but only when it flows naturally from the characters or from the narrator. None of the swearing came across as natural, which I can only attribute to the lack of ability to really translate these words properly.
This book would have been my ideal if 1) There had been no "present" time, because I truly loved the historical time and the parallels the author drew between the relationships in the story and the struggles against the Argentinean dictatorship; and 2) I had read it in Spanish. Perhaps I'll try that in the future.
Bottom Line: Read it in Spanish, if you read it at all, but I'm not gonna push it.