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The Gods of Tango, Carolina De Robertis, Alfred A Knopf, 2015, 363 pp
Another fabulous novel! It will live on in my memory perhaps for as long as I live.
In 1913, Leda leaves her tiny Italian village for a new life in Argentina. Her cousin/fiance has been there for a couple years and has finally written for her to join him. The wedding ceremony has taken place in her village without him present and her mother is so angry with her for leaving that she will not even say goodbye. Oh, the terrible things we do to each other. In addition, Leda's best friend has recently died under horrific and mysterious circumstances.
So, along with a suitcase and a trunk containing her father's violin, she boards a ship with hopes, fears, and losses as her primary baggage. When she finally arrives in Buenos Aires, she is greeted by her new husband's best friend with the shocking news that Dante is dead, killed by a stray bullet in an Anarchist riot just for being an innocent bystander.
Buenos Aires is a city teeming with immigrants, a violent place with large areas of poverty contrasted with the wealthy. After months of barely surviving as a single woman, Leda becomes infatuated with the Tango, teaches herself to play the violin with the help and encouragement of an old man who lives in her building, and decides to go into the city's nightlife as a male violinist. She takes Dante's name, wears his clothes and lives an incredible life as a musician.
The novel is as seductive and flamboyant as a Tango. Having been a violinist earlier in my life, having played in orchestras, sung in bands, and written my own music for many years, I was enthralled. This is also a history of the Tango, a musical genre that has parallels to the Blues in North America, and has gone through constant changes as it became one of the most popular musical and dance styles of South America. I watched videos of the Tango as I read.
Leda's story, living as Dante, is dramatic, full of challenges, triumphs and heartbreak. It is also a tale of her awakening sexual identity and the conflict between the accepted church-inspired views of women with what really goes on in the secret personal lives of both men and women.
Carolina De Robertis writes prose the way a composer writes music and drew me into a rich and passionate world I had not known much about. It is a sexy novel that will have you reaching for your partner or sending you out to find one.
(The Gods of Tango is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)