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Beauty Salon [Paperback]

Mario Bellatin , Kurt Hollander

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Book Description

July 1 2009

"Like much of Mr. Bellatin’s work, Beauty Salon is pithy, allegorical and profoundly disturbing, with a plot that evokes The Plague by Camus or Blindness by José Saramago."--New York Times

"Including a few details that may linger uncomfortably with the reader for a long time, this is contemporary naturalism as disturbing as it gets."--Booklist

A strange plague appears in a large city. Rejected by family and friends, some of the sick have nowhere to finish out their days until a hair stylist decides to offer refuge. He ends up converting his beauty shop, which he’s filled with tanks of exotic fish, into a sort of medieval hospice. As his “guests” continue to arrive and to die, his isolation becomes more and more complete in this dream-hazy parable by one of Mexico’s cutting-edge literary stars.

Mario Bellatin, the author of numerous short novels, was born in Mexico City in 1960. In 2000, Beauty Salon was nominated for the Médicis Prize for best novel translated into French. This is its first translation into English.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 72 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers (July 1 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872864731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872864733
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 11 x 1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 45 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #555,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Mario Bellatín was born in Mexico City in 1960 and studied film in Cuba. A singular talent and risk-taking storyteller, Bellatín is the author of the short novels, Canon perpetuo, Efecto invernadero, Damas chinas, and Poeta ciego. Salon de belleza (Beauty Salon) was released in 1999 and received huge praise and wide recognition. This is its first translation Originally from NYC, Hollander has lived in Mexico City for the last 20 years. Editor of magazines: The Portable Lower East Side (1983-1993) and Poliester (1992-2000). Author of various works of fiction, translator, writer, director and producerof the feature film Carambola (2005). He currently writes for the London Guardian Weekly and the New York Times travel section.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning - beautiful! Sept. 7 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At only 63 pages, I hesitate to call this book a novel. As you read, however, the story fills in with a power and depth, along with a backstory of history and motivations that every reader will create for him/herself, that is massive.

The narrator is a man who saved his street-earned money and builds a beauty salon. There it is easy to see that he wants to create a place of beauty and serenity. He loves his aquariums, and talks about how he learned about the different kinds of fish and their needs. I think that, like living underwater in an aquarium, he hopes that his beauty salon will mute the real world.

But an unnamed plague is in his city. It is clearly HIV/AIDS, although it is never mentioned by name. The narrator turns his beauty salon into the Terminal -- selling everything in the place (the hair dryers, the mirrors, the chairs) and buys beds, supplies, and creates a place for men suffering from the disease to die. It is not a place for treatment, or for maudlin talk with loved ones (who are banned, at any rate, from coming in). But a place to come when the only other place open to you to die in is the street.

This book is deeply moving. I understand that the original writing was gorgeous. Certainly Mr. Hollander's translation is unforgettable. This isn't the sort of sad story where I want to cry; this story just left me aghast at the human condition. It seems like some things are so bad that even the angels can only watch mutely, with no clear understanding of what is happening.

Having said all that, don't be put off from reading this work. This writer is a wonderful talent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hauntingly beautiful novella about illness and death Sept. 3 2009
By Darryl R. Morris - Published on Amazon.com
The unnamed narrator is the owner of a popular beauty salon, which is manned by himself and two other male friends who dress like women, in order to provide excitement into their lives and to put their customers more at ease. One of the friends asks the narrator to provide shelter to another young man who is dying from an illness that bears close resemblance to AIDS, as neither his family nor any facilities will care for him. Soon afterward, others who are similarly afflicted come to his salon, and he converts it into the Terminal, where only men at the end stage of the illness are allowed to stay. His colleagues have succumbed to the illness, and he is the only provider to his guests, as he rejects all requests for help from religious and medical benefactors.

He is a competent but remote caregiver, both to his guests and the tropical fish that were once the highlight of the salon. The dying are not permitted any comforts other than candy, and one young man is savagely beaten by the owner after he tries to run away. Only one young man elicits any sympathy from him, but only fleetingly.

Later, the narrator develops telltale signs of the illness, and realizes that he is beyond hope. Only then does he reflect on his life and those of his guests, as he wonders if anyone will take care of them in their last days.

Beauty Salon was a very short but superb and unforgettable novella from an author largely unknown outside of Mexico who hopefully will gain greater exposure after this work.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, Clever Fiction Aug. 16 2009
By C. R. - Published on Amazon.com
Bellatin is a major innovator in contemporary fiction finally getting attention in the States with the release of this novella and a recent feature in the NY Times. This is only his second work to be released in the States, but he is well-known in the Spanish-speaking world and Europe for his clever, subversive short works. Readers may find bits reminiscent of Cesar Aira, the Argentinian novelist (or at times Roberto Bolano).

Beauty Salon is narrated in a direct way by a salon owner who has transformed his shop into a Terminal, a place where the dying are tended to in their final days. While the city, epidemic, and time of the novel are left vague, it feels distinctly temporary and familiar. In many ways the epidemic is reminiscent of the experiences of earlier HIV/AIDS patients, being rejected by hospitals, treated like lepers, and left to their friends and communities to take care of them when even their families at times reject them. In fact, the narrator is a transvestite who only takes in men as part of his rigid system of rules for the Terminal. Detaching himself from the suffering around him, the narrator embraces taking care of the fish in aquariums that he has set up in the shop. For him, the fish provide a deeper connection to the world around him than the patients he has taken in and works to stay estranged from.

Bellatin's style is clear, subtle and direct. The richness of his prose is not immediately apparent in the simplicity of the sentences. Eventually though the book won me over and surprised me with its intelligence and immediacy. Since the setting and circumstances are not fully revealed, Beauty Shop remains allegorical. The story feels timeless in its exploration of a man focused on the creation of beauty who finds himself surrounding by ugliness and suffering.

I have to confess that when I heard this book described as an allegory, I feared it would feel remote, cold, and uninviting. I was excited to find my assumption was dead wrong - this book draws you in, strikes you viscerally, and feels vitally familiar.
5.0 out of 5 stars Correction Sept. 5 2009
By coop1821 - Published on Amazon.com
I have only read Beauty Salon in Spanish, so I can't comment upon this translation as such, but it is a powerful and strange story, which I heartily recommend. I would also like to correct Booklist's statement that this is Bellatin's first appearance in English. It is not. "Chinese Checkers: Three Fictions" (which I translated) has been available right here at Amazon since 2007, or maybe even 2006.Chinese Checkers

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