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Farabeuf centers on a torture practice known as the leng tche in which the victim is literally cut to pieces while still alive. In 1905 Louis Carpeaux, while in China, photographed the torture of Fu-Chu Li (1880-1905), punished for killing a prince who had taken the victim's wife. Elizondo fictionalizes the shock and fascination with these historical pictures, which have mesmerized such diverse authors as Georges Bataille, Severo Sarduy, and Julio Cortdzar.

Dr. Louis Hubert Farabeuf, the main character, lends his name to the title of the book. In reality Farabeuf (1841-1910), considered one of the great surgical professors of his time, taught anatomy at the Medical School in Paris. Elizondo, combining historical and fictional data, has Farabeuf author two treatises, the historical one on surgery and a fictional one on the medical aspects of torture which partially focuses on the leng t'che.

A man and a woman (a nurse by profession), while vacationing at a beach resort and thumbing through the surgical textbook, find the picture of Fu-Chu Li, a Boxer rebel tortured for his political crimes. Farabeuf has photographed the victim literally on the threshold between life and death. Fascinated by the photo, the couple agrees to have Dr. Farabeuf re-enact the torture at a later date with the woman as the victim. The woman both fears and desires the fulfillment of the pact. While in Paris, expecting the telephone call from the man to inform her that the pact is to begin and that Farabeuf is on his way, she consults the I Ching. She associates the rattling of the oracle's coins to the ringing of the telephone. She also links the sound of the coins to the noise the torture instruments make in Dr. Farabeuf's surgical bag as he makes his way up to her apartment.

Although Farabeuf does not concentrate on traditional "Mexican" themes, it secured Elizondo's reputation in Latin America. The novel reclaimed Mexico's position in discussions of the neo avant-garde and post-structuralism. John Incledon should be credited for this flawless translation of a difficult work of art which is long overdue in the English language.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Romero, Rolando J.
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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