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Born in Buenos Aires in 1948, Manguel is a Canadian Argentine-born writer, translator, and editor. He is the author of numerous non-fiction books such as The Dictionary of Imaginary Places (co-written with Gianni Guadalupi in 1980) and A History of Reading (1996) The Library at Night (2007) and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey: A Biography (2008), and novels such as News From a Foreign Country Came (1991) for which he won the McKitterick Prize.
Manguel's latest (after The Library at Night) pays homage to the intricate puzzles of writers like Borges and Cortazar without rising to their level. Most of the novel consists of a character relating a version of events to a journalist investigating the death of Argentine expatriate Alejandro Bevilacqua, a rising literary star in 1970s Madrid. Bevilacqua fell from "Alberto Manguel's" balcony the night his debut novel, the self-proclaimed masterpiece, In Praise of Lying, was released. The journalist also records the testimony of Bevilacqua's ex-lover, receives a letter from a former cellmate and a confession from a secret policeman, and speculates on the case himself. Separate portraits of Bevilacqua don't unite, creating a mysterious mood and suspense. But aside from the elegiac portrait of Argentines adrift in Europe, haunted by memories of torture and imprisonment, this truth-shifting shell game is all the novel has up its sleeve. When a credible explanation of Bevilacqua's death does emerge, it turns out that events have evolved along predictable lines, which is perhaps this intricate novel's final twist. Intentional or not, the effect isn't particularly rewarding. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Set in Madrid in the late 1970s, Manguel's novel focuses on a group of refugees from the Argentinian Dirty War. At the center is first-time novelist Alejandro -Bevilacqua, who, shortly after the publication of his acclaimed In Praise of Lying, escapes in a panic from a publication party and later falls from a balcony to his death. The book takes the form of a series of journalistic interviews with several people who knew him, ranging from his girlfriend, Andrea, who found the unattributed manuscript among his belongings and secretly worked to have it published, to Cuban-born writer Marcelino Olivares, with whom Bevilacqua spent time in an Argentinian prison, to the character -Alberto Manguel himself, who provided a mostly sympathetic ear for Bevilaqua's life story. These characters give divergent and wholly incompatible accounts of -Bevilacqua's life. VERDICT With the Dirty War as background, the book is both a captivating story and an exploration of the uneasy combination of lies and truth that make up the persona, the self, and the literary enterprise.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, North Andover, MA (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.