FLIGHT OF THE SWAN
Love and betrayal, political upheaval, the sacrifices required by dedication to art, and class differences are some of the themes that Ferré (The House on the Lagoon) engages in this imaginatively conceived but strangely lackluster story of a Russian ballet company stranded in Puerto Rico in 1917. Suddenly rendered stateless by the Russian revolution, a touring troupe headed by a famous prima ballerina is forced to remain in San Juan. As narrated by Masha, a member of the company who idolizes Madame and serves as her devoted maid and confidante, the troupe becomes caught up in the nascent Puerto Rican independence movement. Madame, who preaches the sanctity of art to her virginal acolytes, herself falls in love with Diamantino Márquez, a young man half her age, who uses her to further his revolutionary activities. Devastated by Madame's emotional abandonment, Masha attempts to save her mistress from her unwise passion. At first, Ferré's straightforward narrative style ably conveys a wealth of background information, but soon digressions to explain historical events and long monologues overwhelm the plot. Jarringly, Masha's narration is broken off abruptly and briefly late in the story to introduce another voice. Overall, the novel is bland, devoid of stylistic distinction and sadly lacking in dramatic tension: even the climactic scene describing a tragic brawl during a carnival has little suspense. Despite Ferré's laudable intentions to encapsulate a period of Puerto Rican history by fictionalizing some events in the life of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, this novel falls short of her previous work. (June)
Forecast: A highly successful novelist in Puerto Rico, Ferré began her career writing in Spanish. She now writes directly in English, which may account for the pedestrian quality of this novel. Since there is more gusto in her Spanish prose, which she herself has called "baroque," a Spanish-language version of this novel will undoubtedly find a wider audience.