- Paperback: 72 pages
- Publisher: City Lights Publishers (July 1, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0872864731
- ISBN-13: 978-0872864733
- Product Dimensions: 4.6 x 0.3 x 7.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #482,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Beauty Salon Paperback – July 1, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
An extremely slender, sad tale by Bellatín recounts a gay man's reflections on the waning days of sexual excess and the specter of death wrought by AIDS, though here AIDS is a mysterious, nameless plague. Formerly a stylist in a beauty salon in an unnamed city, the narrator, a transvestite, has now transformed the salon into the Terminal, where people who have nowhere to die end their days. The Terminal has become a kind of hospice for dying gay men, the hair dryers and armchairs sold to buy cots and a cooker, the mirrors removed to avoid multiplying the suffering. The manager keeps exotic fish in aquariums, which he keenly observes as an allegory of what's happening in the larger world: as symptoms of the sickness become apparent on his own body, he notices a fungus growing on the angelfish that fatally infects the others. The narrator's brutal reasoning renders Bellatín's tale an unflinching allegory on death. (Aug.)
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"Beauty Salon, by Mexican novelist Mario Bellatín, originally published in Spanish in 1999 and now out from City Lights Books in a translation by Kurt Hollander, is short. A mere 63 pages, which is good, because its density requires multiple re-reads--and in that curious inversion of fiction, the less the author says, the more expansive the story's meaning becomes. . . His book itself is a place--contained and at times claustrophobic--like the beauty salon refuge, like the suffocating aquariums. And in it, despite its spare style, lives a dense story that leaves a reader unsettled, and unsettlingly intrigued." - Shawna Yang Ryan, The Rumpus --The Rumpus
"In his first work translated into English, Mexican short-novelist Bellatin presents the testimony of a hairstylist who turns his successful big-city salon into a refuge for men dying of an incurable disease. . . . Including a few details that may linger uncomfortably with the reader for a long time, this is contemporary naturalism as disturbing as it gets." --Ray Olson, Booklist
"Like much of Mr. Bellatin's work, "Beauty Salon" is pithy, allegorical and profoundly disturbing, with a plot that evokes "The Plague" by Camus or "Blindness" by José Saramago. In an unnamed city that is suffering from an unnamed epidemic a transvestite hairdresser has turned his shop into a hospice for men dying of the disease, caring for them as indifferently as he tends to the fish he houses in aquariums that are his sole diversion." --The New York Times
"Beauty Salon succeeds in suggesting whole worlds just outside of its pages. The effect is distinctly cinematic: a montage of images which catch the reader's eye and expand the reality of this anonymous man, anonymous disease, and anonymous city far beyond the story itself." --Larissa Kyzer, Three Percent
"Some authors take time creating an overall feel for their book. But when you're writing a novella of well under 100 pages, you don't have much time to set the tone. Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin doesn't waste any establishing the tenor of Beauty Salon. He does it with the first two sentences: 'A few years ago my interest in aquariums led me to decorate by beauty salon with colored fish. Now that the salon has become the Terminal, where people who have nowhere to die end their days, it's been very hard on me to see the fish disappear.' . . . Bellatin's description of the world is blunt and brutal." --Tom Gebhart, Blogcritics
"Reading Beauty Salon one is very much in the presence of a man who knows what he believes and tries to consciously put that forth to the reader, and trying to work out just what this is--and why he believe this--constitutes the book's primary interest . . . Beauty Salon is, like the fish tanks described within, a small, closed environment, although the paths that can be taken through it are many." --Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading
"The bleak, rapid-fire sentences of Mexican writer Mario Bellatín's Beauty Salon give the spare novella an airless hyper-immediacy--and a terrible, unstoppable momentum. . . Bellatín's tale exists outside an ethical conversation. Rather than pose moralistic questions, he sets about elegantly illuminating the book's epigraph, a quotation from the equally efficient Yasunari Kawabata: 'Anything inhumane becomes human over time.' In a few haunting pages, Bellatín makes this piercingly clear." --Megan Doll, Bookforum.com
"Mexican writer Mario Bellatin has created a rare literary feat: in just 63 pages he has produced a novella that sparkles with beauty and clarity as it delves into one of the most horrifying and shunned diseases of our times--AIDS. . . . Written in simple sentences that flow offortlessly without the interruptions of chapters, Beauty Salon is a lyrical piece about how a disease is turning its victims into pariahs, and as a result has made our society less human. Mario Bellatin had the courage to write about this taboo in a country that is known for its homophobia, and in return he was rewarded with a little book of deep beauty." --David D. Medina, Literal. Latin American Voices
"Bellatin's fiction is very fresh and invigorating... With his pared down style and conscious experimentation in prose, Bellatin shows an affinity to the Nouveau Roman and its focus on objects rather than the traditional elements of the novel. Bellatin seeks to portray fragments of experience rather than a coherent world. Characters aren't defined by descriptions, but remain only as emotionally-charged glimmers in the narrator's memory. ... The effect of this is disconcerting and strangely moving..." --Eric Karl Anderson, Chroma
"Imagine a salon that becomes 'the Terminal,' a surreal yet all too real refuge for strangers 'who have nowhere else to die.' I'm still haunted by the narrative voice and the aquariums. (You'll have to read it to find out about them.)" --Robert Gray, Shelf Awareness
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The narrator is a man who saved his street-earned money and builds a beauty salon. There it is easy to see that he wants to create a place of beauty and serenity. He loves his aquariums, and talks about how he learned about the different kinds of fish and their needs. I think that, like living underwater in an aquarium, he hopes that his beauty salon will mute the real world.
But an unnamed plague is in his city. It is clearly HIV/AIDS, although it is never mentioned by name. The narrator turns his beauty salon into the Terminal -- selling everything in the place (the hair dryers, the mirrors, the chairs) and buys beds, supplies, and creates a place for men suffering from the disease to die. It is not a place for treatment, or for maudlin talk with loved ones (who are banned, at any rate, from coming in). But a place to come when the only other place open to you to die in is the street.
This book is deeply moving. I understand that the original writing was gorgeous. Certainly Mr. Hollander's translation is unforgettable. This isn't the sort of sad story where I want to cry; this story just left me aghast at the human condition. It seems like some things are so bad that even the angels can only watch mutely, with no clear understanding of what is happening.
Having said all that, don't be put off from reading this work. This writer is a wonderful talent.
When the narrator had his salon, he had aquariums with exotic fish to make the shop more beautiful. Or as he says: “just the thing to make the place special.” He keeps some fish after he converts the salon into the home for these sick individuals. He compares the fish that are difficult to keep alive with the dying men.
As awful as conditions were for AIDS sufferers in the first years of the epidemic in the U. S., these men dying as well as those who did not get a place in the Terminal fare much worse if that’s possible. And as grim as this little story is, we have to admire the narrator for taking care of his brothers just as gay men throughout America in their own quiet ways became unsung heroes as they cared for their friends and lovers. And if you want to put a name and face on a real-life hero, read STREET ZEN, the biography of Issan Dorsey, who went from a drag queen (the narrator at one time dressed and went into the streets to pick up men) and drug abuser to a Zen Buddhist who opened Maitri Hospice for people with AIDS in San Francisco. Sometimes life imitates art.
Beauty Salon is narrated in a direct way by a salon owner who has transformed his shop into a Terminal, a place where the dying are tended to in their final days. While the city, epidemic, and time of the novel are left vague, it feels distinctly temporary and familiar. In many ways the epidemic is reminiscent of the experiences of earlier HIV/AIDS patients, being rejected by hospitals, treated like lepers, and left to their friends and communities to take care of them when even their families at times reject them. In fact, the narrator is a transvestite who only takes in men as part of his rigid system of rules for the Terminal. Detaching himself from the suffering around him, the narrator embraces taking care of the fish in aquariums that he has set up in the shop. For him, the fish provide a deeper connection to the world around him than the patients he has taken in and works to stay estranged from.
Bellatin's style is clear, subtle and direct. The richness of his prose is not immediately apparent in the simplicity of the sentences. Eventually though the book won me over and surprised me with its intelligence and immediacy. Since the setting and circumstances are not fully revealed, Beauty Shop remains allegorical. The story feels timeless in its exploration of a man focused on the creation of beauty who finds himself surrounding by ugliness and suffering.
I have to confess that when I heard this book described as an allegory, I feared it would feel remote, cold, and uninviting. I was excited to find my assumption was dead wrong - this book draws you in, strikes you viscerally, and feels vitally familiar.