cover image Chase


Alejo Carpentier. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.95 (122pp) ISBN 978-0-374-12083-2

Written in 1956, this gem by a renowned Cuban novelist ( The Kingdom of This World ; The Lost Steps ) is considered by many to be an esthetic watershed in Latin American fiction. Untranslated until now, it most clearly shows his method: a suspenseful, political situation delineated in a baroque elliptical style in which the details of landscape and feeling take the foreground and create their own suspense, transforming the story, a commonplace of modern fiction, into a luxuriant tropical canvas. Here the dubious hero, a young man who in his university days participated in revolutionary activity and was caught, tortured and became a partisan of a corrupt political leader, is now being trailed by hitmen of a rival seeking to take power. His story is framed by that of a box-office clerk (an eccentric but a kind of Everyman) at the concert hall where he has taken refuge. The chase is full of the formal suspense cliches of popular fiction, and Carpentier slows it down to reach for what is the grander total view. While some of the novelists of the Latin American boom claim him, Carpentier is a magic realist but no fabulist; he is, in fact, delineating an easily recognizable event in the history of Cuba. Readers who know Havana will be able to follow the chase from block to block, but the symbolism embedded in the references to the poet Heredia and the playing at the concert hall of Beethoven's Eroica may escape many. Carpentier was often nominated for the Nobel Prize but was neglected outside the Spanish-speaking world. Now Noonday Press promises uniform paperback editions of all the novels: a real boon for lovers of fiction. (Sept.)