segunda-feira, 19 de agosto de 2013

Obsession By JAN STUART, a book review of LIMA NIGHTS, by Marie Arana



A Review on
LIMA NIGHTS, by Marie Arana.
246 pp. The Dial Press

"I am always surprised to learn that people do not live with memories of fragrance as I do,” Marie Arana wrote in "American Chica,"  her gloriously redolent memoir of growing up as the daughter of a Peruvian father and an American mother. If books came with ­perfumed-page inserts, Arana’s new novel, “Lima Nights,” would smell of bougainvillea and lemons, with an acrid hint of Molotov cocktails and a potent under­pinning of sausages and apples. These last two infuse the combustible rapport of its two Peruvian lovers, Carlos Bluhm and Juana Maria Fernandez.
   True to their identifying aromas, Carlos and Maria are oddly compatible, despite having been yanked together from far-flung sectors of Lima: he a middle-aged camera importer with a refined (if downwardly mobile) European pedigree, residing with his wife and two sons in the tony neighborhood of San Isidro; she a 15-year-old indigenous-Indian scrapper from the stifling maze of ­metal-roof huts that is the Lurigancho ghetto.
   Doom-laden, cross-class romance might strike admirers of Arana’s epic first novel, "Cellophane," as a low reach. Part historical fiction, part magic realism and part bodice-ripper, “Cellophane” cascaded playfully with stories atop stories, like the brimming emanations of a mute fabulist who had suddenly been granted the gift of speech. By comparison, the crisp but earnestly single-­minded “Lima Nights” comes off as a genre exercise by an artist with a hectoring sense of ­mission.
   The first half of the novel is set in 1986, when the mayhem of the Shining Path  rebels was at its apex. Club-crawling with his three buddies, the German-Peruvian Bluhm (who shares a telling homonymic link to the Jewish Dubliner of “Ulysses”) meets Maria at a tango bar, where she moonlights after a shift at a super­market. Seeing a haven from her bleak home life while miscalculating the extent of his family fortune, Maria pursues the camera vendor. Bluhm, wowed by her native freshness (oh, that apple scent) and hoping for an easily disposable respite from his wife, takes the bait. But while Communist bombs ravage Lima, Bluhm’s domestic paradise goes up in smoke.
   The second half jumps to 2006, when Bluhm and Maria are living out a travesty of the amorous bliss they tasted 20 years earlier. Maria has the fancy roof she wished for, but no wedding ring: Bluhm is too tightly bound by class and racism to make that leap. In a battle-of-the-sexes gambit worthy of Lucy and Ricky, these two mistrustful lovers try to outfox each other using weapons stolen from their opponent’s cultural closet (magic arts and psychiatry). In the process, “Lima Nights” nose-dives toward a drolly melodramatic windup that invokes an old Cupid from the sea and reunites Bluhm with his band of barfly musketeers.
   Such fantasies of undying fraternal camaraderie, however improbable, are less problematic than the novel’s dialogue, which often seems cribbed from Maria’s telenovelas. “I’m not on a dangerous road, headed for perdition. I’m there already,” she declares to Bluhm, who later unleashes the full potential of his imperial German stripes by barking at a maid: “Ein, zwei, drei! We are orderly, precise people. We don’t believe in that jungle claptrap. And we don’t put up with domestics who don’t understand their place in a house.
   Arana’s characters are much more memorable, finally, for the fragrances that define them than for anything they say. Where readers might have eagerly inhaled great gusts of “Cellophane,” they’ll most likely sniff through “Lima Nights” in search of elusive ­surprise.
Jan Stuart is the author of “The Nashville Chronicles: The Making of Robert Altman’s Masterpiece.” - February 9, 2009


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