Heart of Tango

Elia Barceló Translated by David Frye
MacLehose Press; £12

THE Spanish have a special way with the modern-day ghost story, as evidenced by the huge success of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind and its successors.

Heart of Tango is a ghost-cum-love story, slipping effortlessly between past and present in luscious prose that echoes the sinuousness of the dance itself.

The story glides smoothly between the present day and the early 1920s in the colourful La Boca district of Buenos Aires, a melting pot of recent immigrants, mainly from Europe. In the present day Rodrigo is among the growing number of tango addicts, seeking out milongas – places where people gather to dance the tango late at night – for relief from his stressful, globe-trotting job as a computing troubleshooter.

On one such night in a nondescript room in Innsbruck, Rodrigo meets his ideal dancing partner, a once-in-lifetime experience, but she disappears leaving only an address in La Boca, and the name Natalia. When he goes to Buenos Aires in pursuit of her, the house is derelict and all he finds is a portrait of her dating from 1920.

Natalia is 19, and has been in Argentina just two years, having emigrated from Valencia in Spain with her Basque father. She is engaged to a German sailor, nicknamed El Rojo, 15 years her senior, who has helped her father to buy a house in anticipation of the wedding in two days’ time.

She encounters a young dancer called Diego, and it’s love at first sight. Diego and his musician friends serenade the lovely young bride and because El Rojo does not dance, Diego partners her in an erotic tango and her new husband is alerted to danger.

The story takes many complicated steps back and forth, leaving the reader dizzy with elation, and enthralled by the possibilities presented.


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