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Tropical Night Falling.

Tropical Night Falling, by Manuel Puig. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991

Although Tropical Night Falling lacks the clever plotting and structure of earlier Puig novels such as Boquitas pintadas (Heartbreak Tango) and El Beso de la mujer arana (Kiss of the Spider Woman), it is nevertheless a delightful, satisfying novel that shows off the author's keen ear for dialogue.

The unlikely protagonists are two octogenarian Argentine sisters. Nidia, who is eighty-three, is visiting her sibling Luci in Rio de Janeiro, where the latter has taken up residence. Both women have been through their own private hells. Nidia lost her daughter to cancer and is having difficulty accepting not only the death of her grown child but also the fact that her son-in-law may remarry. Luci had to attend to an ailing husband for years. Now her two overbearing sons, one of whom lives in Switzerland, want Luci to give up her apartment and allow herself to be cared for.

In spite of their problems, these women possess a tremendous zest for life. Luci has already declared her independence from her over-solicitous family by moving to Rio and buying her own place. Alert and self-sufficient, she reads the papers, learns Portuguese and finds pleasure tending exuberant tropical vegetation. She and her sister are interested in everything that goes on around them. They speculate about the comings and goings of Luci's neighbor Silvia, a psychologist who has been unlucky in love. Through the sisters' conversations about Silvia, the two women reveal their own frustrations and yearnings.

When Luci's son finally does convince his mother to go to Switzerland, the trip turns out to be too much for her. Away from the bright tropical sun, Luci withers. Alone in Rio, Nidia takes up with Silvia where her sister left off. In spite of the urging of her fifty-year-old son, whom she calls Baby, she resists returning to Buenos Aires and decides to buy Luci's apartment.

She soon makes friends with Ronaldo Rodrigues to Nascimento, an attractive young man who works as a night watchman in a neighboring building, and pays him to accompany her on walks. Through Ronaldo, Nidia comes to know the terrible living and working conditions to Rio's desperate poor. When he tells her about his wife Wilma, who is waiting in the Northeast while he struggles to scrounge up enough to bring her to Rio, Nidia is deeply moved. She invites the young couple to live with her and gives Ronaldo money for Wilma's ticket to Rio. Immersed in her project, Nidia feels better than even. She prepares the apartment and writes to Luci (whose fate Luci's son has hidden from her) to bring her a heavy blanket for the young woman. When Ronaldo seduces a fourteen-year-old maid and escapes with Nidia's money, the elderly woman is devastated. Finally, the succumbs to her son's entreaty and returns to Buenos Aires.

But not for long. Nidia is too engaged in life to allow herself to be lured back to the oppressive climate of Buenos Aires, where only death awaits. Silvia and Wilma are her new friends, and she has made their struggles her own. The bright tropical sun that had sustained her sister beckons her back, and she goes, but not before cunningly securing for Wilma the blanket that Luci never sent.

Published in Spanish just two years before Puig's death, Tropical Night Falling is a touching celebration of life. Luci and Nidia hang onto the fragrances, the sounds, the sunset, the love affairs, and the other dramas that surround them because these are alive and life-giving. Night is falling, but in the tropics it does not fall nearly so fast as in darker, colder climates.

Suzanne Jill Levine is certainly one of America's most highly respected translators who has given us ample proof of her capabilities elsewhere. Unfortunately, this translation seems rather hastily done. The language is sometimes choppy and affected, and not enough attention has been paid to fitting the voice to the character. For example, when Luci says to Nidia, "You're indefatigable," instead of something more natural, such as "You're tireless" or "Don't you ever get tired?"

In spite of this problem, Tropical Night Falling is pure Puig and a pleasure to read. Luci and Nidia are so lovable that not even a slightly flawed translation can spoil them.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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