cover image BUDAPEST


Chico Buarque, , trans. from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin. . Grove, $19.95 (183pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1782-3

José Costa, a vain ghostwriter and inveterate amateur linguist in his late 30s, is the narrator of this potent cross-cultural romp through Rio de Janeiro and Budapest. As Costa is returning to Brazil from an "anonymous authors' convention" in Istanbul, a bomb threat forces his plane to land in the Hungarian capital, where he is immediately bewitched by the Magyar language, "rumoured to be the only tongue in the world the devil respects." Back in Rio he starts to mouth Hungarian while asleep and ghostwrites The Gynographer , a farcically oversexed gothic autobiography. Growing tired of his job and sour marriage, Costa jets back to Budapest, where he stalks and seduces both the language and Kriska, a divorced mother who sadistically tutors him in Hungarian. Costa masters the language soon enough—too soon to be entirely believable—and begins ghostwriting in his adopted tongue until the authorities deport him on a visa violation. What ruse can get him back to Budapest and Kriska? Buarque (Turbulence ; Benjamin ), a renowned Brazilian composer and musician, concocts a predictable postmodern conceit to wrap things up, a smoke-and-mirrors metatextual gimmick. On the whole, however, this slim book—a hybrid travelogue-romance-satire-intro to literary theory recalling Gogol and Borges, among others—is anything but stale: dark comedy abounds, and Costa's metaphorical language about language is refreshingly lyrical, bracing and ruminative. Agent, Bloomsbury Publishing (U.K.). (Oct.)