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19 December 2010

Moving On from The Lady Matador's Hotel

National Book Award finalist Garcia delivers a powerful and gorgeous novel about the intertwining lives of the denizens of a luxurious hotel in an unnamed Central American capital in the midst of political turmoil.  This is an IndieBound as well as a Carolyn pick.

Kirkus Reviews (07/01/2010):
Six characters in an unnamed tropical city consider matters of life and death, sex and politics, in a brief, intense, imperfectly resolved chronicle of overlapping destinies.

Skilled, sensuous and wry, García displays economy and impressionistic deftness via her diverse cast centered in the Hotel Miraflor, located in a volcanic, Latin American "wedge of forgotten land between continents." Here, after a recent history of violent political turmoil, an election is looming in which the ex-dictator is standing for president, while bombs explode in rival hotels. Meanwhile, Korean textile manufacturer Won Kim dreams of suicide for himself and his pregnant teenage mistress; guerrilla-turned-waitress Aura plots revenge on Colonel Abel for the savage murder of her brother; and lawyer Gertrudis Stüber sells babies to rich white visitors such as poet Ricardo Moran. But most eyes are on the thrillingly beautiful yet unattainable Suki Palacios, here to compete in the first Battle of the Lady Matadors in the Americas. Observing these characters over six days, as they pursue their preoccupations with birth, blood, desire and duty, García simultaneously evokes a corrupt, vibrant culture via snippets of news and gossip. More successful as a sequence of character portraits than a full narrative, the book concludes with some positive choices and some open-ended possibilities, yet remains short of a larger sense of narrative unity.

Six brightly located characters in search of more than synchronicity.

From my Staff Pick review on www.booksonfirst.com:

The literary device used by Cristina García is not new, but highly effective -- intertwining stories of starkly different characters, cinematically envisioned, moving in and out of screens like a Juzo Itami or Pedro Almodóvar film.

I especially like the treatment of chapters, each representing a successive day in the week, beginning on Sunday, 2 November 2003. She begins with tantalizing phrases to introduce what is to come, to wit, Chapter One:
The lady matador puts on her suite of lights * The ex-guerilla serves pork chops * The lawyer delivers a baby girl * The Korean manufacturer visits his mistress * The poet buys a cheap wristwatch * In the gym with the colonel * The news
The news comes at the end of each chapter and consists of snippets
From Channel 9's Top of the News

From the Weather Channel

From La Boca Abierta, a feminist radio program

From El Pajarito, an astrology show

From La Estrella magazine

From Radio Cristiana

From The Lupe Galeano Show
among others.

And, within the chapter, sub-labels succinctly tell where the action is: The Lobby, The Honeymoon Suite, Roof, Elevator, as well as a few locations around the city, like at The Factory or Hospital. This spareness sets a black-box dramatic stage for a lush, Central American setting of the writer's and the reader's imagination, the excitingly intriguing behaviour of the lady matador, and the cold, calculating actions of the baby fixer which leads to her ultimate downfall. And, because García ultimately follows the tradition of Latin American surrealism, it is no surprise that her practical guerilla sees and speaks with her dead brother's ghost who is not a helpless wraith but can somehow send anonymous gifts through room service to El Colonel who believes them to come from La Matadora.

This is a book to be savoured and despite Kirkus Reviews's half-hearted criticism on lack of narrative unity, delivers a full-bodied story that reads like a heady wine.

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