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One of the challenge points on the Better World Books 2017 Reading […]
Antonio Orlando Rodriguez
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Sixth Chamber, Inc
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What follows as they prepare for their adventure and, later, when they arrive in the Cuban capital, is a hilarious, erotic, and political tragicomedy, told in hallucinatory language, volcanic in its invention, and replete with Rabelaisian characters: among them, a quasi-widow who runs her family as if it were an army, sisters too ugly to marry off, a kind friend with the face of a monkey, a hermaphrodite nun, an iconoclastic, dissolute painter, the handsomest communist who ever lived, disheartened phantoms, bands of irresistible Cuban men, transmigrating souls, and, finally, the very seed of a demon who will one day make the Island his own.
As they struggle to meet the celebrated actress, the two protagonists find themselves bouncing from the somber offices of the Cuban secret police to an Arabian Nights-inspired ball, to an agitated Lenin tribute and a drum celebration honoring Babalu Aye, to a horrific crime scene in the heart of Havana's Chinatown, and through a world of sordid brothels and interracial orgies.
Yet at the heart of The Last Masquerade is its most unforgettable creation, the sickly, reclusive, and wearied stage legend Eleonora Duse, whose voice is heard at intervals throughout, as if from a distant land, revealing for the first time the story of her private life. She was rivaled in her day only by the great Sarah Bernhardt, and Duse's passing encounters with her two aristocratic fans reveal a person different from the one they had imagined: an ordinary woman whose life has been fueled by loss and sorrow, haunted by the fragility of love and by an inordinate intimacy with death, all of which she has used as instruments with which to sharpen her craft.
As the final curtain drops on the novel, we are let into the mystery of a world long forgotten, of two cosmopolitan centers outside Europe and America where the ruling class had as much fun as anyone in the world, and, like everyone else, had to suffer the consequences.
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