October 6, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Partly Cloudy 24°C
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Bios & Memoirs


The Underground Man

Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer endures as a detective ahead of his time.

There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's brilliant stories eviscerate families seeking Communist-era roofs.

I Refuse

In a novel with autobiographical hues, Norwegian Per Petterson considers friendship and lost time.

The Dream of My Return

A paranoid Salvadoran expat in Mexico City dreams of going him — but conspiracies come first.

As Good As Dead

Elizabeth Evans' new novel is a powerful look at women friends "reunited" in name only.


David Vann's vision of family redemption starts magically, but grows foul with rage.

My Documents

Chilean Alejandro Zambra's stories move from fictional autobiography into handsome melancholy.

Three Moments of an Explosion

China Miéville latest collection of stories turns the known world upside down to terrifying effect.


The Book of My Lives

Aleksandar Hemon's poignant memoir falters when family tragedy becomes its focus.

Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal

American writer Michael Mewshaw generously recalls Gore Vidal and his tumultuous times.

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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