24 December 2007

Mario Delgado Aparaín, The Ballad of Johnny Sosa, 1991

Set at the time of Uruguay’s 1973 military coup in the nowhere town of Mosquitos, Johnny Sosa is a poor black dude who sings soul and blues in the local brothels, minus his teeth, a decent guitar or much of a future. Then with the involvement of a local impresario who’s friendly with the town’s new military rulers, he gets a chance to make it big in a national singing competition, and at last get some teeth and a good guitar. But soon he realises there’s a price to pay when his neighbours start disappearing, his political awareness is awakened when he sees where the connections lead, and he questions whether his big dreams are worth the cost.

Aparaín has been compared to Gabriel García Márquez, and there certainly are similarities in the earthiness of the subject matter. But Aparaín conceals his story with obscuring passages: there’s much to this story that’s hidden and that does not emerge easily, to the extent that I found myself having to re-read several pages back to see what I must have missed the first time, making me wonder if it really was a tale worth telling if it couldn’t be told any straighter than it is. But maybe that complexity is sometimes inevitable when a writer tries to make a big fable out of a small story.   PY

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