cover image The Garden of Secrets

The Garden of Secrets

Juan Goytisolo. Serpent's Tail, $24 (152pp) ISBN 978-1-85242-659-0

The life of Eusebio, a homosexual dissident poet who was a contemporary of Lorca, is the subject of this collection of interrelated short narratives, a tour-de-force in its range of styles and perspectives. When members of a reading group decide to compose a collaborative work on the events leading up to and following the poet's internment in a nightmarish state psychiatric hospital during the 1930s, their collage of stories results in an image of the writer as an eccentric, somewhat haunted and brilliant individual. Some of the stories attempt to reimagine Eusebio's life with journalistic accuracy. One describes his tiny hospital room, from which, until he escapes, he is able to catch only a small glimpse of the outside world; another chronicles his slippery responses to courtroom questioning, making his prevarications into acts of rebellion. The book is more entertaining when it goes farther afield than this, making suppositions about the poet's life that could not possibly be true but are fascinating possibilities. One simply stated tale concerns a man who transforms himself into a stork to spy on his adulterous wife; later, it is revealed that Eusebio transcribed the story from one told by a neighbor in the town where he spent his last days. Another storyteller fashions Eusebio into an impostor who names himself after a character in the cult novel The Saragossa Manuscript; this Eusebio dresses in drag, watches movies at all hours and rides in a chauffeured limousine. One only wishes that Goytisolo, author of numerous novels that blend a strong imagination with a stronger social conscience, had pursued some of his more whimsical impulses further. Still, the resulting work is a monument to ideological and intellectual integrity. (Jan.)