THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY SOSA

Mario Delgado Aparan , trans. from the Spanish by Elizabeth Hampsten. Overlook, $21.95 ( 1-58567-224-6 $21.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1585672240

Set in a small town in Uruguay, Aparaín's gracefully written parable-cum-novel offers some telling, allegorical commentary on the effects of tyranny. Johnny Sosa is a struggling musician in the tiny village of Mosquitos. He longs to hear his blues interpretations played on Uruguay's most popular radio station, and his dreams seem about to come true when a chance encounter with a prominent radio announcer leads to a meeting with orchestral arranger Maestro Di Giorgio. But Di Giorgio is in league with an ominous military figure known as the Colonel, whose forces have just taken charge of the ragtag country. The Colonel is willing to sponsor Sosa's musical career, but that sponsorship comes at a steep price. A trip to the dentist for a set of teeth transforms Sosa's appearance; soon afterward, however, several of his friends and associates are harassed or arrested. Sosa becomes further disillusioned when he learns that Di Giorgio and the Colonel plan to make him into a commercial singer, and when he expresses his doubts about the project the Colonel comes calling, seeking to take back Sosa's teeth as well as his guitar. Aparaín tells his story in a fast-moving and spare prose style that works well considering the familiarity of the story line, although the lack of details about the oppressive regime makes the novel seem sketchy in places. That quibble aside, this is a well-rendered version of a tale that remains a central Latin American narrative. (Oct. 21)

Forecast:Aparaín's novel is a small hit in Europe and Latin America (it has been sold in 10 countries to date), but competition with other, more substantial works on the same theme—most recently, Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat—may limit its reach in the U.S.

Reviewed on: 10/21/2002
Release date: 00/00/0000
Paperback - 128 pages - 978-1-58567-604-0
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