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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 10 February 2011
Wow, I am impressed, what an achievement. To not only write about the trials and dilemmas of a gay man coming out and making his way in the world but to also give such a vivid account of Argentina during the turbulent times of the Falklands War. A must read for anyone interested in Literature and not only for the gay readership.
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on 25 November 2002
I read this book completely by chance, and am so glad that I got the opportunity. It was succinct, flowing, and full of accurate imagery. The author does such a good job of capturing the details of life in Buenos Aires, throughout the period that he has chosen to base his novel in. I thought his treatment of the transition period especially in the early 1980's was spot on, and he succeeds in portraying Argentina's national emotions, that vary from intense pride to shame. As a member of that 'Anglo-Argentinean' community that he describes with such detail, I can say that he gets very close, and reflects the lives and attitudes of so many people, it is uncanny at times. If nothing else, this book will help you to understand the recent history of Argentina that we have lived through, and still has a great impact on our lives. Diez puntos, ¡comprálo!
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on 22 December 2005
A superb novel - the author's style is so pared-down as to be almost minimalist, but he paints vivid pictures and characters through very controlled structures. I found it to be a very erotic novel, in the deepest sense of that word's meaning, and also rather sinister. The last chapter, with its portrayal of tenderness and love, moved me to tears. Definitely not a paperback to throw away - this is one I shall keep and re-read in a year or so's time.
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on 4 September 2006
I bought this book by chance, interested in the content and by Toibin's reputation. I never expected to be moved to tears. I read the book in three sittings, something I have never done before, simply because I could not put it down. I think I almost fell in love with Richard Garay and I have only ever once before cried when reaching the end of a novel. The subject matter in the final chapter is particularly close to my heart and I will never forget the emotional journery either in my own life or in the chacters depected here. Thank you for writing this book and portraying real gay characters, not simply laughable, camp shallow characters, and for portraying so poiniantly how two men can fall in love so deeply, the difficulties they can sometimes face coming to terms with their sexuality and the isolation that it can bring. I want to dive back into their lives and share it with them all over again. I am profoundly moved.
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on 23 May 2008
Richard/Ricardo discovers his identity at a time of great unrest in Argentina during the reign of the Generals and the Falklands war and before the AIDS crisis.

Following the death of his staunchly patriotic English mother, Richard finds himself alone and finding solace with men he encounters on streets and in saunas. After quitting his job as an English teacher, his Anglo-Argentinean language skills come in useful as he is introduced into the world of Americans, politics, business men and corruption. This leads him to meet the elusive but alluring Pablo, brother of Jorge - Richard's friend and English student.

Erotic but never vulgar, the story that ensues is predictable but written in a succinct and realistic style, efficiently portraying the fear and desolation that many gay men must have felt during the 80's.

It is important to bear in mind that this title was first published in 1997 so is a relatively old book and, for some, may not have the same impact that it did at the time.

The group was divided with its appraisal but, worryingly, everyone agreed the middle third of the book could have been omitted with little detriment to the overall story! This read may be best suited to someone new to gay fiction who can keep up with the history lesson too.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 July 2015
Published in 1996, Colm Tóibín’s third novel is set in Barcelona and, mainly, Argentine, a country that the author visited in the mid-1980s to cover the trial of ex-President Galtieri and the other Generals for crimes against humanity during the earlier period of dictatorship.

We first meet the narrator, Richard Garay, in his mother’s shabby apartment in Buenos Aires sleeping in her bed. Richard was brought up in the city, the son of an Argentinian businessman and a frustrated English woman who never really settled and spoke to her son in English - something that led to him to work at a rather mediocre language school that matched his ability as a teacher.

After the Argentinian invasion of the Malvinas he finds himself wholly supportive of the national spirit and the author describes his narrator’s attempts to live as a gay man in the repressive environment of the Argentina of the period. We learn of his childhood, his remoteness from his parents and the time he spends in Spain with Jorge Canetto, one of his students, a member of an influential business family.

Following the war and the trial of the Generals, Jorge’s father seeks to become President and Richard is asked to make contact with Susan and Donald Ford, employees of the Institute for Economic Development [= CIA] who have come to the country to identify the ‘best’ candidate, manipulate the election accordingly and to ensure that US interests are protected and promoted. These two characters are central to the remainder of the book but, unfortunately, Donald remains a vague character and his wife is wholly unconvincing. The Fords recognise Richard’s ability as a translator and, before long, they help him to make contacts and assist visiting experts who are assessing the Argentinian economy and advising on economic liberalisation.

Richard falls in love with Jorge’s brother, Pablo, who has returned from San Francisco and their life together forms the latter part of the novel. Richard’s narrative is rather flat, in keeping with the character’s repressed emotions.

Richard’s descriptions of his parents, the lack of interest of their relatives after his father had died and the closeness that he finds with his mother once he has told her of his sexual preference are convincingly described as are the difficulties that he finds moving in the circles of the rich and well-connected. There is rather too much gay sex, or rather too much repetitive gay sex, but the arrival from California of two friends of Pablo, Jack and Mart, gives the story added impetus and the ending is touching.

The three elements of the story seem not completely integrated but perhaps this is more a reflection of the impact of the author’s later books. Reading the book today, knowing the economic travails of Argentina over the last decade, provides a different perspective from when it was written with the Peronista President Menem in power. Richard’s Anglo-Argentinian background also provides an unusual background for the descriptions of the attitudes of people in the street to life under the Generals [‘We saw nothing, not because there was nothing, but because we had trained ourselves not to see.’], the invasion of the Malvinas, the initial expectations of victory and the bitterness of the subsequent defeat and humiliation.

The changes in Argentinian politics and society are mirrored in those of Richard’s professional and personal life. Behind the scenes we see the malevolent power of the US governmental and commercial organisations. Unfortunately, the author seemed rather unclear how to remove the Fords from the story in order to make room for the final narrative element. Richard, who sees others getting wealthy from corrupt manipulation and privatisation, agonises and worries over whether he should do the same.

The extreme pressures to repress gays in Argentina are contrasted with more liberal environments in Uruguay and California. However, one suspects that many gays in Argentina, especially those who were neither wealthy nor well-connected, had very different experiences to those that Richard describes. As the story progresses the Argentinian location becomes less important as the story focuses on Richard and Pablo.
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on 30 July 2009
this book is really incredibly beautiful and i never knew where it was going next. Toibin writes in a very sparse emotionally muted prose. at first this seems to be quite distancing but as the novel increases in emotional complexity and depth it allows the full depth of the emotions to come through - when one of his characters professes love for another those words resound with all the unspoken meanings of love. in places i was reminded of Graham Greene and his ability to effortlessly tell a story whilst encompassing profound human truths within it.

it is a novel with a very broad scope bringing in life in Argentina in the 80's, Capitalism and Dictatorship. what resonated for me the most though was the telling of a gay man's story in a prose that is so unfussy it gives that life an incredible dignity. there are no apologies or explanations or justifications. instead there is a simple bearing witness and this is where Toibin excels. he does not judge, he simply bears witness to experience and emotion. there were so many parts of Garay's experience that resonated with my own and i felt Toibin had got it spot on. he demonstrates how gay love is often built up in an uncertain situation and the fragility of the characters and their strength is explored with great humanity.

as the novel progressed i found myself really caring for the characters and becoming worried as to how Toibin would treat them. i needn't have worried. the ending is extraordinary - completely rooted in difficult reality and a testament to the wonder that lies in us all.

this story of a human who moves from a withdrawn state to an opening of who he is is what, in the end, makes this novel so satisfying.

the only question for me is why Toibin isn't so well known in the gay community as, i feel, he stands head and shoulders above the other more celebrated authors. he really deserves more recognition and thanks.
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on 6 January 2013
This novel includes Argentinian military rule and disappearances, the English community within Argentina, the Falklands War, the fall of the military government and the opening up of Argentina to US influence and democracy. The Anglo-Argentinian protagonist Richard Garay not so much drives the plot as rides the wave of these events - showing rather than telling American influence. His fluent English and his ability to be read different ways, mean he is a natural intermediary. He adopts other people's agendas - those of the ex-Peronists, the oil companies', the US government. He sets up in consultancy but he has sponsors. If he begins to live a kind of dream, and break free from the peeling interior of the flat he has inherited from his mother, the dreams often seem other people's ideas. He is a tabula rasa upon which can be written Argentina's story. As Argentina opens up, so he opens up. Then he falls in love.

The underlying structure of the novel is a dynamic movement from repressive poverty through to his time as a student, where nothing is spoken about, where his personal life is under cover, through to Argentina's Falklands crisis and surprise opening up. It feels like a movement from the hidden to the open. He falls in love with Pablo. He finally expresses it. Pablo comes to live with him. So it comes with a shock to realise that Richard and Pablo are about to be caught up on another wave of history - AIDS. That in itself will force another stage of openness.

The contrast between the beginning and end of the book is huge. Buenos Aires at the beginning is isolated, repressive, shut down, often penniless. At the end of the book Richard and his friends have made it financially. You can catch a plane overnight to New York, and you can be treated with the latest drug AZT by an American doctor in Buenos Aires.

Toibin's male characters are far more believable than his female ones. If Richard seems wooden with an impersonal and in articulate love life and few opinions of his own, this comes across a real and less pathological than the female artist in `The South' who appears unable to love her children. But ultimately, the character's interest lies in the intensity of change he experiences, and in the inherent interest of a love story. Rather than the character driving the plot, Richard absorbs the plot and takes Argentina into himself.
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on 16 December 2008
I have never written a review before , so perhaps the fact I have made the effort says all there is to be said.
Like for others who have read this book, it was almost impossible to put down, and I read it in a day. The narrative is so honest and fresh , so unpretentious . I shall keep my copy safely. I don't think I will ever be able to forget this book ( not a bad thing ! )It was like getting up after an incredible film and feeling affected by it , not being able to get it out of your mind. !!
Colm has a talent so very few writers can match . More please !
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on 11 January 2010
I'm gutted I didn't discover Toibin sooner - this was an amazing book, with incredible characters and a story that pulled me right in from the start. I felt these to be some of the most believable gay characters I've ever encountered in a novel, yet at the same time the fact that they were gay seemed almost secondary to their personalities, their failings and the way things eventually play out. This is true of the setting of 1980s Argentina as well. Although it definitely does colour the plot, as with the characters themselves the humanness of the story would have been equally gripping even in a less interesting backdrop. As I neared the end I found myself hoping beyond reason for a particular outcome that seemed less and less likely, almost as one would for actual living friends or family.

Highly recommended.
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