cover image El Yanqui

El Yanqui

Douglas Unger, Author HarperCollins Publishers $16.95 (300p) ISBN 978-0-06-015645-9

In 1969, the narrator (the titular Yanqui) is snatched from his accustomed ways as a quasi-hippie in his Long Island town and his chosen scene in the East Village and deposited as an exchange student in Buenos Aires. Ensconced as the overindulged ""son'' of a wealthy lawyer and his wife in a lavish home, he lives the life of the Argentinian rich, carousing, drinking, making a pass at a pretty servant girl, wrecking the family carand incidentally attending a Catholic school lorded over by a corrupt priest who represents the rigid, oppressive society of social privilege. The terrorist junta is in power, and relatively enlightened people are Peronistas in sympathy. The boy himself gets caught up in a protest demonstration and is detained and beaten by the police, while a girl he fancies ``disappears.'' There is certainly a powerful subject here, but it is nearly drowned by voluminous detail, needless excursions and digressions, commonplace observation and surprisingly pedestrian prose. The author of the well-received Leaving the Land has imagination and narrative energy, but they misfire in this novel. (October)