Dark and complex, like a piece of fine chocolate, All Men Are Liars is a book to be savored and revisited.
Think about your friends, coworkers, or those with whom you've shared of yourself for a time, and in a specific role. How would any of them describe you? Would any two of them draw the same picture of you or have the same opinion of you? Alberto Manguel uses the voices of several people to describe Alejandro Bevilaqua after his death. As an interesting twist, one of those voices is that of Manguel himself. Each person's viewpoint is colored by their emotional ties to the deceased, and each adds a dimension to a man who the reader never hears from directly. The upshot is a questionable portrait of the subject, Bevilaqua, but a truer idea of those who describe him.
In a circular puzzle, Manguel starts the narration himself, speaking to the chronicler of Bevilaqua's life, Jean-Luc Terradillos. Initially, when I assumed that the story would traverse a lineal course, I was reading it as I would a novel that would involve escalation, climax, and denouement. However, when successive narrators were introduced, I found myself going back to the beginning to look at overlaps, exaggerations, and omissions in how each of these people wanted to remember Bevilaqua. It is these discrepancies in the biography that give weight to the title, because the stories do not mesh to create a seamless portrait. Having the various contributors to the story each set apart in their own chapter made the book more of a collection of stories, tied with a common thread.
Another way to look at it is that each chapter really is a chapter of Bevilaqua's life, and each story proves that he was many things to many people. I could see my own life being compartmentalized this way, being written as chapters in a book, by people who know me from specific encounters with them.
The author weaves historic and geographic settings throughout the different narrations to provide a rich background. The reader will get a good sense of Buenos Aires and Madrid from the period, with all the textural elements of life in those locales.
This book was originally published in Spanish, and I would have to credit the translator, Miranda France, with making the English text read quite smoothly. I appreciate a translation such as this that has little stiffness.