A daring and deeply moving novel set in Argentina in the time of the Generals--a time when the streets are empty at night, and people have trained themselves not to see. Richard Garay lives with his mother, hiding his sexuality from her and from society. Stifled by his job, Richard is willing to take chances, both sexually and professionally. But Argentina is changing, and as his country edges toward peace, Richard tentatively begins a love affair. The result is a powerful, brave, and poignant novel of sex, death, and the diffculties of connecting one's inner life with the outside world.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
In elegantly crafted prose, Irish author T ibin (The South; The Heather Blazing) delivers a rewarding narrative that blends themes of personal intensity and historical import. Set in Buenos Aires in the 1980s, the novel follows the fortunes of Richard Garay, a young man who is desperately lonely in a country where his homosexuality is still unacceptable, and who is further distanced this is just after the Falklands War by his British origins. These prove invaluable, however, when he becomes involved with the American diplomatic elite, ostensibly stationed there as "advisers" but in effect securing U.S. strategic interests as the military regime of the generals slowly ends. Although Richard prospers professionally as a translator and consultant, the furtive nature of his personal life leaves him unfulfilled until he meets Pablo. Their stable and loving relationship brings him happiness, and, through his new lover's visiting American friends, Richard glimpses the potential of gay life in a freer society. The book succeeds seamlessly on two levels. Through Richard's work, we get a fascinating view of Argentina in transition: the corruption of the old state; the manipulation of a troubled country by a superpower; the widespread shame over and denial of the political disappearances. Through Richard's own coming-of-age story, we also bear witness, in T ibin's evocative cadences, to a more international yet deeply personal crisis: the devastation of AIDS. T ibin writes with meticulous control and an understatement that makes the deeply moving and surprisingly consoling ending absolutely real. (May) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 18, 2005
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Excerpt from The Story of the Night by Colm Toibin
During her last year my mother grew obsessive about the emblems of empire: the Union Jack, the Tower of London, the Queen, and Mrs. Thatcher. As the light in her eyes began to fade, she plastered the apartment with tourist posters of Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard and magazine photographs of the royal family; her accent became posher and her face took on the guise of an elderly duchess who had suffered a long exile. She was lonely and sad and distant as the end came close.
I am living once more in her apartment. I am sleeping in her bed, and I am using, with particular relish, the heavy cotton sheets that she was saving for some special occasion. In all the years since she died I have never opened the curtains in this room. The window, which must be very dirty now, looks on to Lavalle, and if I open it I imagine there is a strong possibility that some residual part of my mother that flits around in the shadows of this room will fly out over the city, and I do not want that. I am not ready for it.
She died the year before the war and thus I was spared her mad patriotism and foolishness. I know that she would have waved a Union Jack out of the window, that she would have shouted slogans at whoever would listen, that she would have been overjoyed at the prospect of a flotilla coming down from England, all the way across the world in the name of righteousness and civilization, to expel the barbarians from the Falkland Islands. The war would have been her shrill revenge on everybody, on my father and his family, and on the life she had been forced to live down here so far away from home. I can hear her screeching now about the war and the empire, her voice triumphant. I can imagine trying to silence her, trying to escape her.
Her brittle old bones are firmly locked in the family vault, with my father's middle-aged bones, and my grandparents' bones, and the bones of one uncle, and the small, soft, delicate bones of a cousin who died when she was a baby. Recently, I have felt unwilling to join all the rest of them in that dank underworld beneath the ornate angel and the stone cross. I can imagine the vague stench of ancestors still lingering, despite everything, despite all the time they have been dead. If I have enough money left, I will find my own place of rest.
I was the little English boy holding my mother's hand on the way out of the Church of England service on Calle Rubicon on a Sunday morning, my mother smiling at the members of the British colony, my mother wearing her good clothes and too much makeup and putting on her best accent and the weird, crooked smile she used on these occasions. She loved my name, Richard, the Englishness of it, and she hated it when anybody used the Spanish version, Ricardo. As I grew older, she loved me sitting quietly in some corner of the apartment away from her reading a book. She liked the bookish part of me, she drooled over the English tweed suit which I had specially made by a tailor on Corrientes. She mistook my reserve and my distance from her. She thought that it was real, and she never understood that it was fear. She liked my teaching at the university, even if it was only two hours a week in what passed for a language laboratory. And when I lost those hours and worked solely in Instituto San Martin, teaching repetitious English, she never mentioned it again, but saved it up to contemplate in her hours alone in her study, another bitter aspect of the way things had declined. She was disappointed.