News from a Foreign Country Came

Alberto Manguel, Author, Carol Southern, Editor
Alberto Manguel, Author, Carol Southern, Editor Clarkson N Potter Publishers $19 (0p) ISBN 978-0-517-58343-2
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The inverted syntax of this book's title weakly signals the dramatic pretensions that follow in this overwrought first novel. An Argentine now living in Canada, Manguel traces the life of French military officer Antoine Berence: from his days in Algeria during its struggle for independence; to Argentina, where he serves in a bureaucratic post throughout the post-Peron crackdown; to his retirement in Quebec City. In the flashback narrative, Berence is an impossibly mannered creation, made the more ponderous by his habit of speaking to himself in precious poetic phrases rendered by the author without irony and annoyingly in italics. In Canada, Berence's wife becomes an innocent victim of an act of retribution meant for him (it seems he was more than a bureaucrat in Buenos Aires), and virtually the rest of the book is her first-person account of the history of their marriage. Unaccountably, the relentlessly postured Berence becomes simply a dull apparatchik in his wife's telling. A preposterous, overblown ending, in which Berence admits his sins to his 10-year-old daughter Ana, provides one consolation--Ana walks away into the night. Readers may wish they had done so earlier. (Mar.)
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