Strange Nation of Rafael Mende

Moacyr Scliar, Author Harmony $19.95 (309p) ISBN 978-0-517-56776-0
Rafael Mendes seems to have it alla condo in the most posh section of town, an exalted position in his Brazilian finance firm, a beautiful 18-year-old daughter, an attractive wife and a mistress. But the world is falling apart for the protagonist of this alternatingly arresting and inflated but always venturesome novel. Mendes's business stands in danger of collapse in the tottering economy of 1975; his freaky daughter has joined the cult of the New Essenes; his treacherous mistress has turned on him; and an elderly self-appointed genealogist delivers a blackmail threat: fork over a large sum of money or stand exposed as an ancestrally Jewish ""New Christian''one whose forebears were converted by the persuasive powers of the Portuguese Inquisition. Scliar (The Centaur in the Garden) documents his case in a sprawling account of the fictional Mendes family that turns into a skewed, scattered history of the Jewsthe novel's reason for being. He traces the Mendes line of descent from the prophet Jonah to the 12th century philosopher Maimonides to 15th century Iberia, where Torquemada fashioned the dire fate of the Jews while another Mendes, a Jewish cartographer, set sail with Columbus. A fine examplar of contemporary Latin-American fiction, Scliar's strong voice and haunting vision enliven this provocative tale. (January 14)
Reviewed on: 12/01/1988
Release date: 12/01/1988
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