I picked this up because I felt a little weighed down by the other books I was reading and wanted something light instead and easy to read. The Tango Singer is certainly that, it slips by in that simple style of many a modern novel. But unlike many a modern novel, it’s also quite interesting.
The plot: an American post-graduate student goes to Buenos Aires to track down a legendary and unrecorded tango singer.
On his travels, he discovers Buenos Aires, its present, its history: the murderous past of its dictatorships, the present financial and political meltdown. The novel is set in 2001/2002 – at the beginning, as he’s leaving the United States, he mentions, in passing, the 9/11 business, before the novel descends into its real political concern, the economic and social collapse of Argentina, which comes to pervade the novel’s background. (Europeans could no doubt do well with reading this). Not merely is he obsessed with tracking down his tango singer, but he ends up living in the house where Borges’ Aleph resides and attempts to find that too. There’s a lot of Borgesiana in this novel.
As you’d expect with a South American novel, it’s often hard to decide what’s fact and fiction. Indeed, so scanty is my knowledge of Argentine history, I didn’t even bother. He could, I suspect be making many things up. I got the same impression reading his Santa Evita. To that novel, I felt, this one compared well: for a start, it’s shorter; which in my mind is a good thing, since many passages in Santa Evita seemed to go on far too long. This only happens a few times in The Tango Singer, most notably in the section which some people kidnap a corpse (does Tomás Eloy Martínez always have a kidnapped corpse in his novels? it seemed a bit shoe-horned into this one).
I’m sure I had more to say, but I forget it now.