Heart of Tango by Elia Barcelo and David Frye
|Heart of Tango by Elia Barcelo and David Frye|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale|
|Summary: Set in the Buenos Aires suburbs in the 1920s, this is a richly descriptive short novel which focuses on a few significant days for the protagonists. Days before her arranged marriage, to a much older German sailor, young Natalia becomes fascinated by a tango dancer. Her father invites the troupe in to entertain them, thereby unleashing a passion and tragedy for the young people.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 198||Date: July 2010|
|Publisher: MacLehose Press|
Although less than 200 pages in length, this short novel encompasses a great deal, both in the storyline, and the development of the characters. The plot itself is simple. Young Natalia has been betrothed to the much older Berstein, a German sailor known for some time to Natalia’s father. He appears as a kindly character, and clearly in love/enamoured of Natalia. But the marriage is no love match, but one done instead for expediency, and although prepared to go through with it, Natalia is like any other young girl, and wishes she was marrying the love of her life. Her mother died when she was a baby so she has had a lonely childhood, yearning for female company and guidance - but the reality of the situation has meant that other than an elderly, kindly neighbour who has tried to help support and advise her, she is irrevocably alone - seeming to have very few friends even of her own age.
Her father clearly loves her dearly, and in his own way is trying to help her be safe and secure in life (as he is terminally ill, and has little in the way of an inheritance to leave her). The relationship between father and daughter is touching in the extreme, filled with tragedy from long ago, and fears for the future for them both. Hitherto they have relied exclusively upon each other, but he knows this scenario cannot continue for long.
Berstein too is a sympathetic character, with demons of his own, and desperately keen to have a steady home life. He treats Natalia well - but almost as an elder brother to a younger sister - this for him is quite acceptable, and up to a point Natalia feels it may suffice and they could develop a loving and mutually supportive marriage. But although her head is telling her this, her heart sings a very different story - of course she wants to be loved and wooed, and not treated as a delicate piece of china!
The scene is therefore set for an emotional catastrophe of almost epic proportions, from which none escape unscathed. The tension the author builds into this narrative is simply superb. Concise, evocative descriptions of the threatening nature of the environment are played out against the turmoils in the protagonists’ hearts . I felt myself literally holding my breath with anticipation and fear for their welfare. The famed district in Buenos Aires, close to the docks, where tango was born, becomes a character in its own right, and takes on a glowering and threatening presence from which the characters cannot escape, but are doomed to be sucked into it’s tragic vortex.
The conclusion was slightly surprising, although understandable under the circumstances. The inevitability of their fates is the strength of the novel, and although we know without doubt that there will be no happy ending to this tale, it does not stop us hoping for some degree of resolution. It is to the author’s credit that she is able to keep this spark of hope alive, even with the situation is at its bleakest.
The final few chapters require careful reading, but are very typical of the Spanish American genre - a fact which the author acknowledges, by thanking the late, great Julio Cortazar.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Barcelo's The Goldsmith's Secret.
Recommended reading - The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
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