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Rosario Ferre. Flight of the Swan.

New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2001 262 pages. $24. ISBN 0-374-15648-4

FLIGHT OF THE SWAN, Puerto Rican writer Rosario Ferre's most recent novel in English, tells the story of Russian prima ballerina, Madame (a fictionalization of Anna Pavlova), and her troupe during an ill-fated three-month stay in Puerto Rico in 1917. There, the middle-aged Madame falls passionately in love with twenty-year-old esthete and freedom fighter Diamantino Marquez, thus betraying not only her husband but also (and much more significantly) her own admonition to herself and her devotees "never to commit [them]selves to a relationship that would clip [their] wings."

Bolshevik peasant Masha Mastova, Madame's confidante and a member of her troupe, narrates the story upon learning of Madame's death in May 1932. The cast of supporting characters includes Madame's arrogant and controlling husband and manager, Victor Dandre; the gentle cobbler Juan Anduce, who became Masha's husband; the idealistic and seductive Diamantino; and Dandre's mysterious and dangerous Puerto Rican associate, Molinari. Coexisting historical and political backdrops alternate throughout the novel: a civil war in St. Petersburg, the war in Europe, and the economic and political dependence of Puerto Rico on the United States. These varied interests reverberate in the intercalated tales that bring to the fore many complementary stories, such as Madame's childhood and artistic coming-of-age; the star-crossed love of unwitting half-siblings Ronda and Bienvenido; and Juan Anduce's anecdotes of his family, the history of the island, and the years he lived in New York.

The simple and sometimes gossipy voices that tell these stories echo Masha's own plainspoken but not unbiased perspective on everything: Madame's well-being, classical ballet, Russian social structure, island politics, and the eternity of art and love. Masha's near-unconditional love for Madame introduces a hint of lesbian eroticism that is never realized, to the chagrin of Masha, who ends up in despair after Madame abandons her and the island: "Time erases everything and at the end we are left with nothing."
Catherine E. Wall
University of California, Riverside
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Author:Wall, Catherine E.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Words:332
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