Vast Emotions and Imperfect Thoughts

Rubem Fonseca, Author, Clifford E. Landers, Translator
Rubem Fonseca, Author, Clifford E. Landers, Translator Ecco Press $24 (312p) ISBN 978-0-88001-583-7
Reviewed on: 12/01/1981
Release date: 12/01/1981
The unnamed narrator of this playful, witty Brazilian bestseller is a movie director on a mission: to find a manuscript of the great Isaac Babel's only novel. The director is grieving over his dead wife in late-1980s Rio when an obese carnival dancer asks him to hold a package for her. Shortly thereafter, and after hearing news of the dancer's murder, the director discovers that this package contains precious gems; at the same time, he receives an offer from a German producer to make a movie out of Babel's story collection Red Cavalry. Not until the director arrives in Germany and befriends his beautiful assigned co-translator does he discover the connections between these lost gems and another kind of lost gem: the masterpiece reputed to have vanished when Babel was shot in one of Stalin's gulags. Fonseca's books (High Art, etc.) are like the movies of Spain's Pedro Almodovar: they take an infectious, comic delight in the solemnity of popular fiction (whether thriller or melodrama, on page or on screen) without exhibiting solemnity themselves. This novel is, also, largely about movies, in particular the comparison between movies and books as modes of representation. The erudite, seductive director survives his misadventures in part by remembering what various movie characters would do in the same fix--but, to his dismay, he dreams in words without images: the book's title refers to an early psychologist's description of dreams like his. In other hands, such conceits might be merely clever or absurd, but Fonseca invests them with matter-of-fact eros and gives his globe-trotting intriguants a fresh, dreamlike reality of their own. (June)
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