Updated on May 19, 2015
9. ‘Heart of Tango’ by Elia Barceló
This a very short but passionate book, filled with striking characters, that ends with a twist you definitely won’t see coming.
I found it a little confusing to get into at first: the opening chapters deal with various people meeting each other through the tango. They do not speak, but they are drawn to each other, they are caught up in the rapture of the dance, and then they part. Later on they reunite – how they manage to do this seems a little ridiculous, but go with it, it’s heading somewhere.
The core of the story is the tale of Diego and Natalia. Natalia is young when she marries a sailor who soon goes off around the world, leaving her alone and bereft in their big house. The mysterious and romantic stranger Diego steps into her life and … well, you can guess what happens.
I liked the development of Natalia as a character: she starts as quite childish but her voice matures as the story goes on. The narrative perspective flips between the three central characters, which works because the different points of view are dealt with in separate sections.
There were some striking moments – for example, the scene in which Natalia dyes her wedding dress black – but I felt that the writing (or maybe the translation) was sometimes a little heavy-handed. The writer would draw an image and then reinforce it with several sentences of, ‘Get it? See what I did there?’ Barceló needs to back off a little and not be afraid to let us do more of the work. Having said that, the section in which Natalia’s father talks about El Rojo’s proposal with her, just before the wedding (my copy pp. 60-62), is excellently done.
I was more or less ambivalent about the book until the ending, which is certainly unexpected and fascinatingly quirky. I think the ending is sufficiently surprising that it saves the book from its faults and makes it well worth a read.
“…the sky was filled with stars, but they were all screaming, as if they were made of shattered glass, just shards of something that had once been beautiful and was now broken forever. As if they were splinters driven into the velvet skin of the night.”
I think I found this in a Waterstones ages ago, didn’t buy it but I put it on my list, and then got it as a Christmas present from my parents. I have to say, it has a very pretty cover and spine – it looks great on my shelf!
If you liked my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?