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La Secreta Guerra Santa de Santiago de Chile.

Tito Livio Trivino's life is a disaster. Although he is a successful ad man who writes publicity for everything from Julio Iglesias concerts to diapers, Tito Livio finds no satisfaction in his job. He is separated from his wife and having problems with his girlfriend. He is so estranged from his young daughters that he can't even remember their ages. His mother, who has been separated from his father for years, is a nag and a bore. Tito Livio wants to be a creative writer, but finds no time. All of a sudden, bizzare things begin to happen. Tito Livio is invited to go to Brazil to work on a project that could make him a star in the advertising business. At about the same time, he notices that two strange men are following him.

At a party given by Donkavian, for whom he will work in Brazil, he meets La Maga (from Julio Cortazar's 1963 novel Hopscotch), who is still gorgeous and seductive after all these years. The scene is a cross between a Fellini movie and The Bonfire of the the Vanities, with a touch of Almodavar. Every luxury and vice is available; every weird and exotic type is represented.

After a night of wild love-making with La Mega, Tito Livio meets with his father, who informs him that Donkavian and La Maga are agents of the Devil. (La Maga doesn't age, of course, because evil is eternal.) On the other hand, the two men who are following him are archangels. The elder Trivino knows about these things because he himself has been a double agent of the forces of good and evil. Tito Livio wants nothing to do with this mess, but there is nothing he can do about it; he is at the center of a secret Holy War of Santiago de Chile.

Shortly afterward, Trivino Senior is assassinated by the forces of evil and Tito Livio discovers that his father possessed secret information valuable to the Devil. Throughout the rest of the novel Tito Livio struggles to discover his father's role in the secret war and to carry on his work. In order to do this, he must retrace his father's steps, locate his old haunts, talk with people who knew him. As his quest draws him deeper into the war, his admiration for his father begins to grow.

La Maga attempts to win him over to the other side with promises of limitless pleasure. "Evil doesn't exist," she argues. Good is simply a convention that was invented to keep people in their place. Tito Livio is torn between desire and his love for his father. he is caught in a labyrinth--the streets of Santiago--in which false leads, double agents, disguised demons, illusions, contraditory signs and ambivalent instructions throw him off time and again.

All of this makes for great fun. Marco Antonio de la Parra tells his story in hip, colorful language, full of Chileanisms. He draws heavily on popular culture--television, film, music. The story has the feel of a cops and robbers story. The characters are parodies of pop archetypes. The archangels are typical G-men and God himself is a bungling tough guy out of a B movie. Donkavian is a classical pseudo-aristocratic, degenerate villain and La Maga is a sultry dame. The Chilean slang and the constant mention of street names make this a very Chilean novel. At the same time, the savvy language, the imagery, and scenes like the one portraying Donkavian's party stress the international nature of pop culture.

In La secreta guerra, it de la Parra makes some important observations about modern society in general and Latin America in particular. Tito Livio is himself an archetype of the modern Latin America middle-class urban male, and his is a fraud. His anguish comes from his awareness of his own inauthenticity. It is significant that Tito Livio is in advertising, because in Latin America publicity is, by Tito Livio's own admission, a kind of plagiarism. The products that Tito Livio has to sell are American or European, and the jingles and stunts he invents to sell them are nothing more than adaptations of foreign ads.

In a sense, Tito Livio's search for his father is a search for himself--for his roots and origins, for his personal identity, and also for his Latin American identity. In a club that his father once frequented, he meets a host of eccentric characters with pseudonyms such as Freud, Marx, Proust, Kant, Marie Curie. These are not people suffering from delusions but authentic Chilean intellectuals whose work has gone unheralded simply because they are Latin Americans. Although they said, wrote or discovered the same things as their namesakes, the world ignored their messages because the work of Latin Americans was not considered important. Their discoveries preceded those of their namesakes, but it was not until their ideas were articulated by Europeans that they came to be valued. "That's the tragedy of Chile," says Freud, "to be an approximation of a country, an imitation, a pastiche, a parody, always a local version of the outside world, a microclimate." This feeling of always imitating the "real" world contributes to Tito Livio's sense of fraudulence.

Since de la Parra is a psychiatrist, it is not surprising that there is so much psychological delving in this book or that Freud becomes Tito Livio's (not always reliable) guide through the maze. Those familiar with de la Parra's play, La secreta obscenidad de cada dia, will recognize the bantering between Freud and Marx--the inner self and the social self.

Tito Livo eventually comes to understand that his father once went through the same struggle that he is going through now. The battle between good and evil is both highly personal and universal. Tito Livio's "secret war" is a crisis of conscience--his own and that of modern man. Tito Livio is not just a Chilean or a Latin American, he is all of us. Throughout the book, the forces of evil are associated with order, the forces of good with confusion. Our struggle with the ambiguities of life is healthy and desirable--and unending; it extends from one generation to another and from one society to another. Marco Antonio de la Parra explores these eternal themes and all in a highly entertaining way.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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