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The Matter of Desire: A Novel [Paperback]

Edmundo Paz Soldan
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 8 2004
The Matter of Desire is the story of Pedro, a Bolivian-American political scientist who teaches at a university in upstate New York. Having become entangled in an erotically charged romance with Ashley, a beautiful red-headed graduate student, he returns to Bolivia to seek answers to his own life by investigating the mysteries of his father's past. Trapped between two cultures, Pedro ultimately finds himself in an existential dilemma of tragic dimensions. The Matter of Desire combines elements of the political thriller and the family mystery with a torrid illicit love affair and brilliantly elucidates the complex relationship between Latin America and the United States.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

South American politics meet Northeast academia in this uneven but affecting novel about untangling a family past. Pedro Zabalaga is—like the author himself—a Bolivia-born professor of Latin American Studies at an upstate New York university. Trapped in an affair with a flirtatious graduate student named Ashley, he flees back home to Río Fugitivo, the fictitious Bolivian city that plays a recurring role in Paz Soldán's work. There, Pedro involves himself in something much more complicated than his affair—an attempt to unravel the romantic, intellectual and political betrayal that led to the death of his father, a famous revolutionary and novelist. With the help of his Uncle David, who was present at his father's death, Pedro reexamines his father's famous novel, Berkeley, a postmodern tour-de-force littered with secret messages. He also interviews Jaime Villa, his father's childhood friend, now a drug lord awaiting extradition. Paz gets mixed results from his weaving of two separate storylines. The affair between Pedro and Ashley, despite its heat, is a standard tale of star-crossed lovers. Less familiar, and more engaging, is the throbbing world of Río Fugitivo, flooded with American culture but still haunted by years of oppression. Paz Soldán is perhaps Bolivia's most notable contemporary author, a winner of his country's National Book Award and the Juan Rulfo Prize, given to the best short story written in Spanish. This is the first of his six novels to be translated into English, and it provides an accessible introduction to his work. Carter's translation is smooth, though her tactic of only partly translating dialogue (a faithful effort to reproduce Paz Soldán's own bilingual leaps) can be distracting.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A Bolivian professor probes the depths of his rebel father's past in this taut, gritty tale of two dramatically different Americas. When Pedro Zabalaga, a Latin American studies scholar, seeks a reprieve from his work--and troubled love life--he returns home to Bolivia and a flood of memories: his friends, family, and the politically charged climate of his fictional native city, Rio Fugitivo. He moves in with his uncle David, a quirky inventor and crossword-puzzle writer, and one of two survivors of a government bombing that killed Pedro's father some 30 years before. In conversations with David and in the pages of his father's cult novel, Berkeley, Pedro discovers disturbing truths about the charismatic man who loved his country to the death. Percolating with American pop-culture references, Bolivian National Book Award winner Paz Soldan's first novel published in English is a bristling alternative to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Blending history, existentialism, and romantic and political passion, it offers an edgy, urban vision that sizzles from the start. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Pedro Zabalaga, a young professor of Latin American Studies at a New York university, is the son of Bolivian hero Pedro Reissig, one of six men massacred by the army in the 1970s, as their socialist cell was planning the overthrow of President Montenegro. When Reissig died, young Pedro was still a small child, and Reissig's legacy to him is a book he has written entitled Berkeley, a cult novel filled with symbolism. By discovering the messages hidden in the book, Pedro believes he will discover his father. Now in Rio Fugitivo on sabbatical to do research, he is staying with his Uncle David Reissig, the only survivor of the massacre.
"Berkeley can be considered as a political critique of the media," David Reissig tells Pedro, "And of history as well, starting with the telegraph." Political use of the media, the dominant theme, is also a concern of Pedro, who writes political commentary for American magazines. In addition, the drug kingpin of Bolivia uses the media to promote the idea that he is a Robin Hood-like hero, several of the revolutionaries whom Pedro Zabalaga befriends are involved in the media, and a popular contemporary rock band, named "Berkeley," conveys revolutionary messages through its videos. In a clever double irony, the author of this novel himself uses the clues of cryptograms to convey the history of the revolution to readers of this book.
Despite its well developed themes, this is not just a "message novel." Pedro Zabalaga's return to Bolivia is an escape from a disastrous affair with a student whom he still loves.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Same Old Themes in a New Package June 23 2004
By A. Ross
Format:Paperback
There has long been a dearth of fiction from Bolivia available in English, so this recent translation from one of Bolivia's foremost contemporary writers is very welcome. The translation is very smooth and readable , which even attempts at times to recreate "Spanglish" dialogue where sentences start in English and switch to Spanish halfway through (and vice versa). Soldan is part of the "McOndo" literary movement, which seeks to move Latin American fiction away from magical realism and into a reality where North American pop culture reigns. Indeed, one of the book's themes is the extent to which American pop culture has become the lingua franca of Latin America, and how although the intelligentsia moves easily between the North and the South, this comes at the steep price of a confused identity.
The narrator is emblematic of this, and interestingly bears several similarities with the author (they are about the same age and both are professors at liberal arts colleges in upstate New York). The story is told by the professor taking a leave of absence from his school and returning to Bolivia to live with his uncle in a fictional city (the setting of other works by Soldan). His ostensible aim is to do research for a book about his fatheróa famous militant insurgent killed by the army in the '70sóhowever he is also running away from a torrid affair with a student who is affianced. These two threads form the main plotlines that drive the narrative, which are underpinned by repeated references to puzzles (the narrator's uncle is a popular crossword creator) and hidden messages.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Latin visions made real April 3 2004
Format:Paperback
What comes after 100 years of solitude?
Literarily speaking, one would hope, a new start.
That start is well under way: A new Latin literary movement that eschews the illusions of magical realism to tell stories set squarely in a world that's both familiar and alien at the same time -- on two continents. And Edmundo Paz Soldan's new English edition of "The Matter of Desire" is not only the latest, but maybe the most commercial work from this intriguing genre.
Barely 37, Paz Soldan is already an important literary figure in Bolivia. And in the process of becoming one of Latin America's rising literary stars, he's become a leading figure in that continent's newest literary movement.
Earlier this year, Oprah anointed Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 1970 classic "100 Years of Solitude," and introduced her book-buying hordes to magical realism. The groundbreaking novel is set in the fictional village of Macondo, a rural environment populated and/or haunted by ever-present spirits. The result was poetic prose that slipped effortlessly between the natural and supernatural.
But kids will be kids. In the 1990s, young Chilean novelist Alberto Fuguet led other Latin American Gen-X writers in a new direction. Their stories often have one foot on each American continent, embracing rather than denying the inextricable entanglement of North and South American cultures. They abandoned the bucolic settings of the interior for more urban, hip context where McDonald's, iMacs, and MP3s are more pervasive than ghosts of the past. Thus, with a tongue-in-cheek homage to Marquez's Macondo, the new literary movement became known as "McOndo."
Like Paz Soldan's protagonist, McOndo writers are often suspended between Americas, between their sometimes sordid history and their urbane future.
Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Same Old Themes in a New Package June 23 2004
By A. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There has long been a dearth of fiction from Bolivia available in English, so this recent translation from one of Bolivia's foremost contemporary writers is very welcome. The translation is very smooth and readable , which even attempts at times to recreate "Spanglish" dialogue where sentences start in English and switch to Spanish halfway through (and vice versa). Soldan is part of the "McOndo" literary movement, which seeks to move Latin American fiction away from magical realism and into a reality where North American pop culture reigns. Indeed, one of the book's themes is the extent to which American pop culture has become the lingua franca of Latin America, and how although the intelligentsia moves easily between the North and the South, this comes at the steep price of a confused identity.
The narrator is emblematic of this, and interestingly bears several similarities with the author (they are about the same age and both are professors at liberal arts colleges in upstate New York). The story is told by the professor taking a leave of absence from his school and returning to Bolivia to live with his uncle in a fictional city (the setting of other works by Soldan). His ostensible aim is to do research for a book about his fatheróa famous militant insurgent killed by the army in the '70sóhowever he is also running away from a torrid affair with a student who is affianced. These two threads form the main plotlines that drive the narrative, which are underpinned by repeated references to puzzles (the narrator's uncle is a popular crossword creator) and hidden messages.
On the one hand, the book is highly accessible for Western readers, with a great deal of flashbacking to life in a thinly veiled Ithaca, and a life in Bolivia that revolves around trips to shopping malls, trendy nightclubs, the internet, iBooks, and music. On the other hand, the narrator's dilemmas are pretty old hat. The professor who finds himself obsessed with a beautiful student. The educated third-worlder torn between the comforts of life in the North and the nostalgia of life in the South. The young man seeking to understand his dead father and discover the "truth" about him. The academic who's lost the drive to play the tenure game. We've seen all this before, and Soldan doesn't add anything particularly new to the mix. Sure, there's some decent writing about a sex (always a tough nut to crack), and there are a few twists and turnsóbut even these are pretty well telegraphed. It's not a bad book, just not particularly compelling or original or insightful. The people who will get the most out of it are probably those for whom the notion that there are people outside the West who like to download music and carry their iPods everywhere is a stunning revelation.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The media put them all in touch with the hereafter." July 12 2004
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Pedro Zabalaga, a young professor of Latin American Studies at a New York university, is the son of Bolivian hero Pedro Reissig, one of six men massacred by the army in the 1970s, as their socialist cell was planning the overthrow of President Montenegro. When Reissig died, young Pedro was still a small child, and Reissig's legacy to him is a book he has written entitled Berkeley, a cult novel filled with symbolism. By discovering the messages hidden in the book, Pedro believes he will discover his father. Now in Rio Fugitivo on sabbatical to do research, he is staying with his Uncle David Reissig, the only survivor of the massacre.
"Berkeley can be considered as a political critique of the media," David Reissig tells Pedro, "And of history as well, starting with the telegraph." Political use of the media, the dominant theme, is also a concern of Pedro, who writes political commentary for American magazines. In addition, the drug kingpin of Bolivia uses the media to promote the idea that he is a Robin Hood-like hero, several of the revolutionaries whom Pedro Zabalaga befriends are involved in the media, and a popular contemporary rock band, named "Berkeley," conveys revolutionary messages through its videos. In a clever double irony, the author of this novel himself uses the clues of cryptograms to convey the history of the revolution to readers of this book.
Despite its well developed themes, this is not just a "message novel." Pedro Zabalaga's return to Bolivia is an escape from a disastrous affair with a student whom he still loves. As the novel alternates between Bolivia and New York, tracing the relationship, the reader sees innumerable parallels between the lives of Pedro and his father in their unwillingness to commit themselves to the future. The mystery surrounding Pedro Reissig controls the action and direction of the novel-Who is he? Who betrayed the group to the army? What does his novel Berkeley mean?
This first-ever translation of a Paz Soldan novel provides insightful descriptions of people, their actions, and their politics. The author's sensitivity to the contrasts between life in Bolivia and life in upstate New York is obvious, and his ability to create not one, but two less than admirable "heroes," both of whom keep the reader engaged, is striking. Despite the constant changes in time and setting, the novel is tightly constructed, using a mystery and love story as the framework for important political observations. Mary Whipple
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Latin visions made real April 3 2004
By Ron Franscell, Author of 'The Darkest Night' - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What comes after 100 years of solitude?
Literarily speaking, one would hope, a new start.
That start is well under way: A new Latin literary movement that eschews the illusions of magical realism to tell stories set squarely in a world that's both familiar and alien at the same time -- on two continents. And Edmundo Paz Soldan's new English edition of "The Matter of Desire" is not only the latest, but maybe the most commercial work from this intriguing genre.
Barely 37, Paz Soldan is already an important literary figure in Bolivia. And in the process of becoming one of Latin America's rising literary stars, he's become a leading figure in that continent's newest literary movement.
Earlier this year, Oprah anointed Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 1970 classic "100 Years of Solitude," and introduced her book-buying hordes to magical realism. The groundbreaking novel is set in the fictional village of Macondo, a rural environment populated and/or haunted by ever-present spirits. The result was poetic prose that slipped effortlessly between the natural and supernatural.
But kids will be kids. In the 1990s, young Chilean novelist Alberto Fuguet led other Latin American Gen-X writers in a new direction. Their stories often have one foot on each American continent, embracing rather than denying the inextricable entanglement of North and South American cultures. They abandoned the bucolic settings of the interior for more urban, hip context where McDonald's, iMacs, and MP3s are more pervasive than ghosts of the past. Thus, with a tongue-in-cheek homage to Marquez's Macondo, the new literary movement became known as "McOndo."
Like Paz Soldan's protagonist, McOndo writers are often suspended between Americas, between their sometimes sordid history and their urbane future. Their characters are often proud Latin Americans who have succumbed to the North American siren song. Their settings span both continents, too. Their neo-realism is edgy, erotic, virtual and cool. What it *isn't* is exotic and metaphysical. It is evolutionary, not revolutionary.
In "The Matter of Desire," Paz Soldan explores the concrete obsessions of love and sex, fathers and sons, literature and word puzzles, past and future, place and dislocation. Besides exploring a hip "new" storytelling model, Paz Soldan tells a story with fascinating twists and turns. It's also a complex love story marbled with political suspense, erotic fascination, and a sense that we are all tethered to a parallel existence in a different place and time. It's a real context for many Latin Americans with intimate ties to El Norte, including Paz Soldan.
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