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Luisa Valenzuela: Cola de lagartija (The Lizard’s Tail)

Nominally about a strange sorcerer in the backlands of Argentina, this novel is actually about Perón, his two wives and López Rega, the Minister of the Interior. López Rega is never named – indeed none of the main political characters is named – but is merely called El Amo (The Master), though he is also called other names including El Brujo (The Sorceror). But Valenzuela paints a wonderful portrait of him and his sorcery, for he is deeply into the occult, black magic, etc. and Valenzuela brilliantly uses this obsession to paint a satirical picture of how Argentina is ruled by the irrational while trying to portray itself as ordered with its Policy of Reorganization. But Rega has a hold over La Intrusa (The Intruder) (Isabel Perón, Perón’s second wife) and uses his black magic to control her in a very Rasputin-like way. The whole tumultuous period is savaged by Valenzuela, in some wonderful set pieces, such as the worship of the finger of the dead Evita (called La Muerta (The Dead One)) or the masked ball, the idea of masks being a key image for Valenzuela. Valenzuela is careful to make it clear that the occult side is not always the bad side, clearly pointing out that it can be seen as an Argentinian response to an unacceptable reality. However, magic realism – using literary trickery, word play and a healthy contempt for reality – make this a wonderful novel.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish by Bruguera 1983
First published in English by Farrar, Straus, Giroux 1983
Translated by Gregory Rabassa