Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Buenos Aires Quintet

There's more going on in The Buenos Aires Quintet than in most crime novels, so it's no surprise that author Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was not just a crime novelist. He was also a "journalist ... poet, essayist, anthologue, prologist, humourist, critic, as well as a gastronome and a FC Barcelona supporter."

In fact, the Colegio de Periodistas de Cataluña awards two prizes named for Vázquez Montalbán, one in sports journalism, the other in cultural or political journalism. There's a bit o'boxing in this novel, and politics and culture? You name it, and it's here, from tango, meditations on Jorge Luis Borges and Catalan food to pointed jokes about Carlos Menem, Argentina's president when Vázquez Montalbán wrote the book.

Mostly, the book is a moving psychological travelogue through Buenos Aires in the years after Argentina's military dictatorship, an "almost unreal" city, perhaps fitting for a novel in which the shade of Jorge Luis Borges figures prominently.

Though Vázquez Montalbán plucks his nihilistic gourmand of a detective, Pepe Carvalho, from Barcelona for this novel (he's looking for his uncle's missing son), fans need not worry. Carvalho still manages to eat well, staying in frequent touch by phone with his chef/assistant, Biscuter, back home for culinary advice.
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Here's a retrospective and a pair of reviews from the Barcelona Review on the occasion of Vázquez Montalbán's death in 2003. The article contains spoilers, but you won't lose much if you know something about The Buenos Aires Quintet's plot beforehand. The book is too rich a trip for that.

And I have just found a link to the abstract for a thesis by one Anna Maria Valsecchi from the Università degli Studi di Bergamo titled in English translation When the Mediterranean hosts a detective story: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Andrea Camilleri, Jean-Claude Izzo. That's one thesis that I bet was fun to write.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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31 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I like the bit where Kirk goes "Khaaannn!!!" or am I thinking of something else?

February 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're not being a drongo now, are you?

February 04, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Adrian, you should be ashamed.
Montalbán did also write frequently for my newspaper, Il Manifesto.
He is sorely missed.


Peter, I've found you a Lucarelli interview

v-word:graved. Indeed.

February 04, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

and I loved his work on Fantasy Island.

February 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tears were shed when Ricardo Montalban was borne to his grave in a coffin lined with "soft Corinthian leather."

February 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, thanks for the Lucarelli interview. That is just the sort of reading I need to improve my Italian.

I was highly impressed by The Buenos Aires Quintet. I think Vázquez Montalbán found the perfect blend of his literary and political interests in this book, more so than in the several of his other novels I've read.

February 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, this is the book you need to read.

February 04, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

There ahead of you. I was "lucky" enough to get a galley of this book as a late Christmas present.

I've got to say that Torre's complaints in the last third of the book were a little bit rich and his description of the famous meeting in Tampa was unbecoming of the man - X frakking million bucks plus millions in incentives are not an insult no matter how you colour it.


I didnt mind thes stuff about Cashman - that guy is no genius. Or Mr S, he deserves it. But the cheap shots at A Rod when the poor guy is clearly in some of Kabbalistic trance with Madonna seem unfair.

Finally he skips over the fact that he burned out relievers and that he screwed up TWO world series with poor decisions and the horrible beyond words ALCS of 2004. Yeah he owns those four rings but he's gotta own the mistakes too.

February 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Interesting comments. I should read some of the flak he's catching for the book. If critics blame him for the failings you cite, more power to them. But if they criticize him merely for telling tales, sod 'em.

The team does seem to have treated him badly toward the end of his tenure, which may well account for this book. And, as one sportswriter pointed out, he's merely repeating common widsom about some players.

So, Torre avoids the subject of Jewish mysticism, does he?

February 04, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'm afraid his views on the Zohar remain unknown.

February 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's because you're just reading the surface meaning of the words, my friend. If you replace each letter in the book with the number to which it corresponds, you will finds that the total is precisely that of both The Book of Ecclesiastes and Ball Four.

February 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As it happened, I had just read an article on the history of the Yankees. Did you know that the team's first owners in New York were essentially Tammany Hall gangsters and front men, Frank Farrell and Big Bill Devery?

February 04, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Next you'll be telling me that No No Nanette didnt debut until well after the Babe moved to the Bronx.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I suppose I never told you that when I went to BA I saw Francis Ford Coppolla crossing the street?

I mean, of all people, in all places. If my wife had been with me she no doubt would have said something, as she did to poor Mike Leigh when we saw him on the tube in London, but I being a dour Protestant from North Belfast said nothing to either gent. And why would I?

February 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Next you'll be telling me that No No Nanette didnt debut until well after the Babe moved to the Bronx."

I'd like to be able to say Clive James insisted it did, but apparently it was a play upon which "No, No Nanette" was later based that was financed by the selling of the Babe.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Are you sure it was Coppolla? All guys with big beards and glasses look the same.

If you're dour now, I suppose you'll be pinched in twenty years.

By the way, I was in BA in November, same time part of Vazquez Montalban's book is set. He has the city's arboreal excess down pat.

I suppose I have told you about the time I made Susan Sontag laugh. I remember I was wearing red gym shorts and no underwear at the time. It was that hot a day.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You have a Susan Sontag story? Gotta here it. I'm a big fan of her essays (couldnt finish The Volcano Lover).

It was definitely Francis FC. A million people were going "Mr Coppolla!" but fortunately I was not among them.

Did you try to get into Borges's apartment? I tried and failed. Twice.

I did go to Uruguay on the ferry which was interesting and of course I did go see Boca Juniors.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger marco said...


Did you try to get into Borges's apartment? I tried and failed. Twice.


You really are a professional stalker.

Have already thought about the graves you're going to visit in Italy?
Shelley perhaps?

February 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had gone to see Robert Wilson's production of "Alcestis" at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge (Mass.). It was an oppressively hot day, and I wore shorts and T-shirt. In the lobby, I see a striking figure sitting alone at a table -- Susan Sontag, instantly recognizable. (I think I saw the streak of white hair first.) I walked over and said that if she was who I thought she was, I'd read and admired several of her books (essays, as it happens). I asked her to sign the only surface I had handy that would take ink -- the copy of "The Periodic Table" that I was reading at the time.

"I'm sorry," Sue says," I can't sign that; it's not one of my books. It's a very good book, though."

I had the presence of mind to draw myself up in mock anger and say: "Well! How was I to know you'd be here? I have several of your books at home. If I'd known you would be here, I'd have brought one."

She laughed.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and I did not see Boca Juniors, but I passed through what must have been their core area of support on the Boca. Saw their colors covering the side of a large building.

I would have liked to visit Uruguay just to see what it was like and to be able to say I was there, but I had too little time. I was just in Buenos Aires for a few days.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, you never asked about graves Adrian might have visited in Bu0noses Aires, at La Recoleta cemetery.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I deliberately did not go there. Just not interested in that lady or her cult.

Nice bit of Sontagging. Gore Vidal calls TVL one of the greatest American novels since the war but I just dont see it.

You could do Montevideo in a day really.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Marco

The Protestant cemtery in Rome? Already been. Keats and Shelley how could I resist? What was left of Shelley I should say.

One of the reasons I went to BA in the first place was to walk the famous route that Borges walked every morning and after reading Paul Theroux's account of his apartment I really wanted to get in and take a peek, but was thwarted at every turn.

No my master literary stalking plan for Italy is to go to the house of a Papyrii at Herculaneum, go to the unexcavated lower library and bring up dozens of lost plays by Sophocoles, Euripides and Aeschylus and of course that lost Aristotle book on comedy Umberto Eco got so worked up about.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter Rozovsky said...
*shrug* My girlfriend/guide wanted to see La Recoleta. It was worth seeing, actually. I'd never seen an extensive above-ground cemetery before, and I was interested to note that that lady was buried in her father's family's crypt.

It was with a later girlfriend that I visited Père Lachaize cemetery in Paris (worth a visit for a number of reasons, not least the notable people buried in odd spaces, and the Jewish Quarter). What is it about women and cemeteries?

February 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't excavate any unexcavated libraries, but I did hold in my hand a book of drawing almost 500 years old as part of some art history research I was doing. It was cool to see the signatures of scholars who had signed it out before me, and I was asked to provide surprisingly little identification at the library in question.

February 05, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

I have just bought L'Amante del Vulcano, used 2 euros.
Wonder if I'll read in this decade.


v-w mendolo

February 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never read her fiction but, like Adrian, I've found some of her essays provocative and stimulating, especially those in "On Photography" and "Illness as Metaphor."

February 06, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

Oh yes, I did read those two, and liked them both very much.
They were requested reading for a university course I took in literary theory.
That's why I was curious about the novel.

February 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"On Photography" has influenced my thinking to this day.

Let me know how you like the novel.

February 06, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Its funny because her non fiction is so clear and sharp and funny, but the novel reads as if her model for English letters was Getrude Stein in one of her more Hegelian modes. Still maybe if you're as smart as Gore Vidal you'll love it.

BTW that mash potato and onion thing - round my way we call it champ and its delicious with sausages and Irish butter.

February 06, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I made sure to sample some champ in Belfast. I liked it.

Maybe Susan Sontag's fiction was her dirty little romp through the mud of incomprehensibility. I agree with you on the bracing clarity of her non-fiction. She had a wonderful talent for making ideas arrived at with difficulty sound marvelously clear. Would that more intellectuals could do this.

February 06, 2009  

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