The Vision of Elena Silves

Nicholas Shakespeare, Author
Nicholas Shakespeare, Author Knopf Publishing Group $19.95 (249p) ISBN 978-0-394-58477-5
Reviewed on: 10/31/1990
Release date: 11/01/1990
One might have thought that the tradition of a British observer romancing the jungles of South America ended with Graham Greene. But no: the lure of the unwashed still pulls, and cocaine trafficking conveniently provides a contemporary hook. The eponymous Elena Silves, born in 1948 in the city of Belen (``Peru's tropical gateway city and door to the mysterious Amazon'') has a vision of the Virgin Mary at age 17 while she is in hiding with Gabriel Rondon Lung--a half-Chinese, half-Portuguese Marxist. Shakespeare, literary editor of London's Daily Telegraph , exploits these two simplistic poles of the South American character--fervent Catholicism and political revolution--so much so that the real fates of his characters (Elena spends 18 years in a convent; Gabriel, the same amount of time in prison and on the run) are virtually passed over. Instead, the two rush to a breathless climax--lovers united at last--but far removed from a history that the author is attracted to, it seems, only as exotic backdrop. At a time when British writing is being hailed for its multicultural sensibilities--Rushdie, Kureishi, Ishiguro--this is a disappointing debut. ( Nov. )
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