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Sergio Pitol: El desfile del amor (Love Parade)
This novel is the first in a trilogy called the Tríptico de carnaval, i.e. Carnival Triptych.
Our hero is Miguel del Solar, a Mexican man of about forty and the time is 1973, though we go back a lot to 1942. He is a widower and his two children live with his mother in Mexico City. He is a historian and a professor of Latin American History at the University of Bristol. At the start of the book he is visiting Mexico City.
He is about to publish a book set in Mexico in 1914/15 and called The Year 1914. He is not very happy with it. He found the style crude and presumptuous. At times, it seemed incoherent and pedantic; at others, overly affected.
However his attention has now moved to the Second World War on the basis of some documents he had discovered in England, which showed how Mexican-British relations fell apart because of oil but were resumed because of the war. This has been helped by British intellectuals visiting Saturnino Cedillo, the Mexican politician and military leader. (Pitol specifically mentions Evelyn Waugh but far more interesting is Graham Greene who gives a fascinating portrait of Cedillo in his Lawless Roads.)
Del Solar is thinking of writing a book about 1942 and Mexico’s international relations at the time. A friend gives him some photocopies which show the strong German presence in Mexico at the time but one reference fascinates him and concerns the Minerva Building (link in Spanish; the building is now known as the Rio de Janeiro Building). An incident took place there in 1942. He is particularly interested in it as he was living with his Aunt Eduviges and Uncle Dionisio in the building at the time. The document states that murders that took place there at that time and involved German agents.
He does remember the incident, though he slept through it. (He was ten at the time.) Next day, however, his aunt was in a state and the police were everywhere. Further investigation confirmed what he had recalled, namely that one person – a German – was killed and two people – Mexicans – were injured and in hospital.This happened at a party given by Delfina Uribe, daughter of an important man and herself owner of an influential art gallery. The party was attended by the Mexican glitterati.
Del Solar decides to investigate what happened, not least as some of he people present are still alive. He visits his highly strung and garrulous aunt, the aforementioned Delfina Uribe, Emma Werfel, who was the with her mother Ida, now dead, a famous historian, and others. He investigate official documents and newspaper accounts. Inevitably different people and different sources give different accounts of what happened.
It seems that Erich Maria Pistauer was shot. He was said to be German but was, in fact, Austrian, and was the stepson of the brother of Aunt Eduviges. But who shot him? And where? It is not clear and there are various theories. Delfina Uribe’s son was shot and survived but died of his injuries a few weeks later. Ida Werfel was assaulted at the party, first verbally and then physically. Pedro Balmoran, a dubious character with dubious connections, was injured but recovered. He was seemingly investigating Gonzalo de la Cana, a nineteenth century second-rate poet who went mad, was castrated and who was related to Eduviges. According to her he was investigating the poet only to discredit her family. Eduviges was quite paranoid (with a a certain amount of justification) and felt everyone was trying to do her family down. Indeed, she feels everyone is after her son Antonio. They are. During del Solar’s stay, he has to flee the country to avoid arrest.
Del Solar continues his investigations, helped by the fact that many of the key (though by no means all) the main characters are still alive. All of them, however, have colourful stories to tell, both connected with the events and not connected with the events, which show that life in Mexico city both then, i.e. 1942 and now, i.e. 1973, was never dull. In particular we see the perspective of the various characters and then the perspective of others about them and what is clear that many of them have a strong antipathy towards the others, sometimes justified and sometimes probably not. Most of them seem to be somewhat paranoid. Del Solar is caught in the middle and has to tread carefully in order not to upset anyone too much if he is to get the information he needs.
Del Solar himself also gets somewhat obsessed. He is planning to write his 1942 book (and has an interesting discussion with his publisher about it). However, he gets completely sidetracked by his determination to find out what really happened that night of 14 November 1942. The problem is, as mentioned, the more people he speaks to, the more complicated it gets. Something had completely escaped his grasp. Both his Aunt Eduviges and Delfina Uribe had lied. What common interest could they share to distort the facts.
There are numerous literary references in this book but two are particularly relevant to what is going on in this book. Del Solar’s cousin Derny comments Everyone, just as in Pirandello’s plays or in Rashomon, has their own version of events. More importantly, is the Spanish playwright Tirso de Molina, whose The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest gave us Don Juan. Ida Werfel wrote about him and he plays a minor role in this novel. We learn of The Garden of Juan Fernandez, a play by Tirso de Molina, where no one was who they claimed to be, in which the characters unfolded continuously, adopting the most absurd masks, as if it were the only way of living with others, which sums up this novel.
This really is a clever novel, giving us a fascinating portrait of Mexico City both in 1942 and 1973, numerous literary and historical anecdotes, issues such as antisemitism, discussions of art, blackmail, castrati (yes, in the plural) and, above all, a clear indication that there is no one truth. Indeed, there may be many truths and all of them may ultimately be flawed or may intersect or be partially true or irrelevant or, perhaps, even untrue.
First published in 1984 by Anagrama
First published in English in 2022 by Deep Vellum
Translated by George Henson