April 23, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Clear 15°C
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Fiction

War Music

Christopher Logue's personal "Iliad" recharges Homer and makes the ancient actual.

The Heart of a Dog

In 1925, Mikhail Bulgakov riffed off a botched operation to slice into communism.

Doctor Glas

Hjalmer Söderberg's sinister story is an early and superb example of psychoanalytic literature.

The Encyclopedia of the Dead

Danilo Kiš, a Balkan Jorge Luis Borges, traded in superstition and arcana.

The Book of Disquiet

Mystical, erudite, sad, self-effacing, wise — Fernando Pessoa's "confession" is all those things.

Cosmos

For Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz, the universe counts dead cats and onanism.

On Such A Full Sea

In a clear warning about Chinese ambitions, novelist Chang-Rae Lee turns to future shock.

Silence Once Begun

Underrated Jesse Ball again enters territory few American novelists venture into.

The Great Fire

For Shirley Hazzard, mid-20th century fires raged both in both world and heart.

Break it Down

Lydia Davis' early stories demonstrate an uncanny gift for "real-time" subversion.




BOOK REVIEW
Beauty Salon
By Mario Bellatín, translated from the Spanish by Kurt Hollander
City Lights, 2009. 63 pages

The narrator of Bellatín's slight but insidious parable is a cross-dresser who runs a beauty salon-turned-hospice in a never-named city as a plague gradually decimates the population. In his place appropriately called the Terminal, he offers a "quick death under the most comfortable conditions," absolutely no priests or nuns allowed.

His fascination is with fish, which he assembles in many aquariums, doting on the idiosyncrasies of different species. They seem easier to care about than his wounded patients.

But then the fish begin to die. At the same time, their illness keeps them safe from predators. "The sick fish attacked by fungus became sacred and untouchable" and "sick fish were always respected." For Mexican novelist Bellatín, a self-styled minimalist who once attended seminary school in Peru, disease levels the playing field. Gay, poor, religious and frivolous are anonymously pooled together. "Death has long believed it has the liberty to do as it pleases in the beauty salon…" As well it should. The secular leveling of the playing field makes for deep helplessness but also creates pride; an odd couple that Bellatín insists must learn to live (and die) together.

Reviewed by Book Staff
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