Taratuta; And, Still Life with Pipe: Two Novellas

Jose Donoso, Author, Gregory Rabassa, Translator W. W. Norton & Company $17.95 (158p) ISBN 978-0-393-03436-3
The first of these well-crafted novellas is narrated by a writer who is in the process of shaping a minor incident from the annals of Russian history into fiction. In 1905 a wealthy Moscow furniture maker dies, bequeathing a small fortune to the Bolsheviks. His sister, herself involved with a shadowy, redheaded revolutionary called Taratuta, helps implement the will, and becomes a close friend of Lenin's. After writing an article about his bit of historical trivia, the narrator receives a letter from a redheaded Spanish waiter, also named Taratuta, who is possibly the Bolshevik's descendant. In the delightfully coincidental, implausible series of events that follows, Donoso ( The Garden Next Door ) reveals his self-assurance as a writer, mischievously inviting the reader to enter into the process of creating fiction. The younger Taratuta is in love with an elderly astrologer, and the pair eventually emigrate to Buenos Aires, where the narrator meets up with them again. The second, more conventional, story is narrated by a bachelor who is the executive secretary of a moribund Chilean society, The Association for the Defense of the National Artistic Heritage. In trying to revive the institution, he actively promotes the work of a Braque-like minor painter, who has been reduced to posing as the caretaker of his own museum. The narrator's fascination with the artist, a beguiling con man, makes for bad blood with the association. When the painter dies, he bequeaths everything to the narrator, but with a catch--the artist has painted over almost all his works in a hideous shade of light blue, leaving the narrator to discover the meaning of this gesture. Both narratives playfully explore the process of making art, and the often ambiguous relationship that arises among an artist, his audience and the work itself. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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Paperback - 160 pages - 978-0-393-31164-8
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