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Comment: Akashic Books, 2007, trade paperback, no underlining or owner's mark, light wear
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Tango for a Torturer Paperback – April 1, 2007

4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A one-time Argentine revolutionary exacts an inventive revenge on the ex-military man who once did him a horrible wrong in this superior crime novel from Uruguayan author Charvarría (whose 2001's Adios Muchachos won an Edgar). While visiting Havana, Aldo Bianchi, now in his mid-50s and living in Italy, falls in love with Bini, a spectacularly beautiful, not particularly monogamous 27-year-old woman. In the midst of his efforts to talk her into marrying him, he discovers that the now retired Uruguayan military officer who tortured him and killed his girlfriend years earlier is living in Havana, enjoying a happy life under the false name Alberto Ríos. Intent upon seeing harsh justice done, Bianchi employs every trick he can, including Bini's personal charms, to lure Ríos into a complicated trap. The author, who lives in Havana, brings to his novel a superlative narrative sense, keen feel for human behavior in desperate situations and a deep understanding of the nature of dictatorships. Charvarría is as adept at comedy as he is at tragedy. (May)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Sultry, sensuous, mysterious Havana is the locale for this unusual political thriller. Argentine-born Italian businessman Aldo Bianchi meets Bini, a beautiful, headstrong Cuban hooker, and becomes a 55-year-old satyr. For Aldo, this is a stunning development, because as a young man, he and his girlfriend were tortured by "Triple O," an infamous torture specialist trained by the U.S. government; that horror affected his relations with women. Through Bini, Aldo learns that Triple O is living in Havana under an assumed name, and he launches a convoluted plot—hinging on a pair of two-toned Florsheim shoes—to get his revenge. What makes this novel unusual is that it is by turns bawdy, funny, dark, cheerful, learned, and madcap, populated with memorable characters and filled with the sense that Havana is a must-see travel destination. Chavarria knows his subject, too: a revolutionary in South America in the 1960s, he fled to Cuba in 1969 and taught classical literature at the University of Havana. Devotees of Paco Taibo III will love Chavarria, as will readers who travel vicariously with the help of the burgeoning ranks of international crime novels. Gaughan, Thomas
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 341 pages
  • Publisher: Akashic Books (April 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933354194
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933354194
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,501,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Is it the tropical climate? Is it the tradition of Latin American literature? I don't know. All I know about Cuba is derived from "I Love Lucy," so take that into account when I say that Daniel Chavarria's "Tango for a Torturer" comes across as an authentic slice of life in Cuba.

Alberto Rios, a military torturer living the retired good life in Cuba is spotted by Aldo Bianchi, one of his former victims, who plots to frame him for a man's death. Helping him is his mistress, Bini, who's incredibly hot but also emotionally unstable.

It's set in Cuba, but Castro makes as much an appearance as George Bush would in my life. He's background noise. Instead, we're given the native's tour, of people scraping by from day to day, working at their jobs, making a little money on the side, staying out of trouble and taking time to live the good life when they can afford it.

But there's some political moments. Rios (aka Triple O) is a psychotic who made torturing political prisoners his career. Reading that he perfected his craft at Devil's Horn, Fla., and Fort Paramount, Ga., raises the point that the uses of persuasion (as Rios would put it) wasn't institutionalized by Bush, no matter what Seymour Hersh says.

Chavarria loves to take little side trips with the story. There's Dr. Azua, the defense attorney, a Cuban combination of Perry Mason and Nero Wolfe, who infallibly determines the guilt or innocence of his clients by laying hands on them. Then there's the homicide detective, Captain Bastidas, called in to investigate the hit-and-run death of a bicyclist in the rain. I can tell you much about his life, but he plays his role early on and doesn't show up again.

What would a New York editor make of this?
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I’m not going to lie to you: I decided to read this book almost entirely based on this author bio: "Daniel Chavarría, a former Tupamaros who hijacked a plane to fly himself to Havana in 1969, is a Uruguayan writer with two passions: classical literature and prostitutes." I figured that anyone with that background was almost bound to be a decent story-teller. Given that the book was exploring the reverberations of the era of military dictators in the Southern Cone (an interest area of mine) I thought it was bound to be entertaining at the very least.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book, a dark political novel about an Argentinean expatriate businessman’s plot for revenge against the man who tortured him and killed his girlfriend on behalf of the military dictatorship set in the late 1990s in Cuba, weaves one hell of a tale.

It’s definitely a yarn with seriousness of purpose rather than high-minded literature. Chavarría may name-check Borges, Homer and Donald Westlake within a few pages, but his story shares much more DNA with the work of the latter than the former two. It’s a gritty novel of weaving conspiracies and people getting in touch with their basic instincts, where the protagonist may be out for revenge for the most understandable reasons possible but is still at least in part trying to cover up his own misdeeds and deal with the evil in his own soul. Though it ends on a surprising hopeful note, the world it exists in is one where morality is cheaply bought and sold, bad men prosper by working with other bad men and justice is assured to almost no one. Compelling and thought-provoking, and comic in a black way, but it’s a novel meant to be enjoyed rather than analyzed too closely.
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