The Dissertation

R. M. Koster, Author
R.M. Koster. Overlook, $17.95 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-4683-0118-2
Reviewed on: 09/09/2013
Release date: 10/29/2013
Paperback - 438 pages - 978-0-393-30648-4
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A careful fake is better than the truth, according to fictional Banana Republic president León Fuertes, and so it is with Koster’s 1975 novel masquerading as a doctoral dissertation, reissued after four decades and still fresh, funny, and disturbingly relevant. Half text, half footnotes, this second volume in a trilogy (after The Prince) about the imaginary Latin American country of Tinieblas purports to be the annotated biography of the leader, as written for academic credit by his son, Camilo, whose sources include interviews with dead people. Camilo traces the family roots back to Rosalba Fuertes, first of several Fuertes women intent on producing a future president. Convicted of witchcraft, León’s mother, Rebeca, leaves Tinieblas, but she returns, maid and child in tow. From con man to candidate, León displays the inherited family traits of artistry, ingenuity, chutzpah, and carnal appetites. Like any good politician, he is a master of compartmentalization. Likewise, Koster displays a wide range of literary styles, from magic realism to satire, combining insight and shtick (in one Kafkaesque moment, Rebeca wakes up as a man). León’s youth is captured in a slide show, while a slow-motion baseball game encapsulates U.S./Latin American relations. Brooklyn, N.Y.–born, Ivy League–educated, longtime Panama resident Koster portrays Latin America with a comedian’s sense of timing, a scholar’s sense of history, and a native’s fond despair. (Nov.)
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