A book recently translated into English should be on interest to those who admire Buenos Aires: The Tango Singer is the latest novel by Tomás Eloy Martínez.
It’s a translation of El Cantor de Tango, which came out in Spanish in 2004. The English translation appears already to be available in the UK but is just being released in the U.S. next week.
The Tango Singer is about an American graduate student who travels to Buenos Aires to research Borges’ writings on tango. The student learns about a mysterious, hemophiliac tango singer who is supposedly better than Gardel but who has never recorded and only does spontaneous performances at various spots around Buenos Aires. This sets the student off on a search through the city to locate the tango singer.
Tomás Eloy Martínez uses the plot to talk about the history of Buenos Aires and to pay homage to Borges. The student comes to believe that he is staying in a boarding house that is the centerpiece of one of the most important stories by Borges, El Aleph.
In many ways, the book is more about the myths and stories of Buenos Aires than anything else. The plot providing a nice frame for talking about Buenos Aires. But, that should make for a good book to read on those long plane trips down to Buenos Aires.
The line between fiction and non-fiction is usually very thin in the novels by Tomás Eloy Martínez, whose background is as a journalist. In fact, I believe that the book might originally have been intended as a non-fiction work.
A couple of years ago I closely monitored the Bloomsbury Press web site, which had announced that Tomás Eloy Martínez was writing a book about Buenos Aires for Bloomsbury’s Writer and the City series, in which famous writers talk about their favorite cities. Other books in the series include Edmund White The Flaneur about Paris and John Banville’s Prague Pictures : A Portrait of the City (Writer and the City.). But Tomás Eloy Martínez non-fiction account of Buenos Aires never came out. Instead, Bloomsbury published this novel.
I have to make a disclaimer that I’ve not read The Tango Singer yet. Since I’m completing my own novel set in Buenos Aires, I didn’t want to be subconsciously influenced. But, as soon as I’m done writing, I’ll be reading The Tango Singer.