cover image The Tango Singer

The Tango Singer

Tomas Eloy Martinez, , trans. from the Spanish by Anne McLean. . Bloomsbury, $23.95 (246pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-601-4

A playfully convoluted new work from Argentinean Martínez (Santa Evita ) follows an American graduate student to Buenos Aires on the trail of an unrecorded authentic tango singer named Julio Martel. In May 2001, Bruno Cadogan ("shitting" in Argentinean argot) arrives in Buenos Aires to hear Martel and complete his dissertation on Jorge Luis Borges's essays on tango. But who is Julio Martel? With the help of a scruffy young kiosk worker named El Tucumano, Bruno finds a room in a low-end boarding house near "the Aleph" of Borges's tale (e.g., a point in space that contains all other points) and begins to scour the city, gripped by out-of-control inflation, for signs of the singer. He plots a map of Martel sightings and elicits from Martel's lover and others tortuous stories of the singer's life: born prematurely in 1945, Martel suffers from hemophilia; he desired, as he made a name for himself in the unstable mid-1970s years of the Perón dictatorship, only to sound like the earlier star tango singer, Carlos Gardel. As each tale winds elaborately into the next, Martinez's work becomes an affecting, affectionate nod to Borges—and his beloved, damaged Buenos Aires as the "aleph" of the universe. (May)