cover image The Name of a Bullfighter

The Name of a Bullfighter

Luis Sepulveda. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $21 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100193-4

Exiled Chilean author Sepulveda has written an engrossing, thoughtful noir novel about the politics of exile and its effect on the human psyche. Everyone in this book is displaced: Germans in Chile, Chileans in Germany, even people in their own country. The narrative centers on Juan Belmonte, former Marxist revolutionary, current bouncer in a down-and-out Hamburg strip joint (the fact that he shares a name with Hemingway's elegant bullfighter is one of the novel's running jokes). His last tie to Chile, which he fled long ago, is a woman named Veronica, tortured into perpetual silence by a representative of the Chilean dictatorship. Belmonte is maneuvered into returning to Chile by Oskar Kramer, a mysterious wheelchair-bound man who is seeking Hans Hillerman, a German hiding in Tierra del Fuego with a fortune's worth of Nazi-era treasure. Opposing Belmonte is Frank Galinsky, a former Stasi agent whose job has been eliminated in the newly unified Germany. Belmonte's quest for the treasure takes him through layers both physical and emotional. Back in Chile, evading Galinsky while trying to locate Hillerman, he is also plagued with memories of his guerrilla past and a lifetime spent in lost causes. Belmonte describes himself as possessing a ""doctorate in defeat,"" but his amiable melancholy and lingering idealism invigorate the tale's bleak setting. The landscape of torture suffuses this novel, and the horrors of authoritarian governments color the background of each character. Everyone is damaged, but the characters are rendered in such fine strokes that they resist easy categorization. If the novel has a fault, it may be that it is too brief; the reader will want to spend more time with Belmonte and his world. (Oct.)