The Last Masquerade

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9780060586324: The Last Masquerade

In the Roaring Twenties, two worldly young aristocrats embark on a journey to see one of their idols, the sublime Italian actress Eleonora Duse, who, to their utmost delight, has recently returned to the stage.
What follows as they prepare for their adventure and, later, when they arrive in the Cuban capital, is a hilarious, erotic, and political tragicomedy, told in hallucinatory language, replete with Rabelaisian characters: among them, a quasi-widow who runs her family as if it were an army, sisters too ugly to marry off, a kind friend with the face of a monkey, a hermaphrodite nun, an iconoclastic, dissolute painter, the handsomest communist who ever lived, disheartened phantoms, bands of irresistible Cuban men, transmigrating souls, and, finally, the very seed of a demon who will one day make the Island his own.
As they struggle to meet the celebrated actress, the two protagonists find themselves bouncing from the somber offices of the Cuban secret police to an Arabian Nights-inspired ball, to an agitated Lenin tribute and a drum celebration honoring Babalu Aye, to a horrific crime scene in the heart of Havana's Chinatown, and through a world of sordid brothels and interracial orgies.
Yet at the heart of The Last Masquerade is the sickly, reclusive, and wearied stage legend Eleonora Duse, whose voice is heard at intervals throughout, as if from a distant land, revealing for the first time the story of her private life. She was rivaled in her day only by the great Sarah Bernhardt, and Duse's passing encounters with her two aristocratic fans reveal a person different from the one they had imagined: an ordinary woman whose life has been fueled by loss and sorrow, haunted by the fragility of love and by an inordinate intimacy with death, all of which she has used as instruments with which to sharpen her craft.
As the final curtain drops on the novel, we are let into the mystery of a world long forgotten, of two cosmopolitan centers outside Europe and America where the ruling class had as much fun as anyone in the world, and, like everyone else, had to suffer the consequences.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Like a circus barker, Rodríguez touts 1920s Latin America in an ambitious tome, featuring a six-page cast of characters rivaling any Russian novel. Lucho Belalcázar Reyes hails from a wealthy and distinguished Conservative family in Bogotá whose mother, La Generala, rules the roost with "on her left hand a lace glove, on her right, an iron mitt." She accepts that her son is gay as long as he is discreet and promises not to " 'pair up' with a liberal." Lucho's beloved of five years is Wenceslao Hoyos, whose obsession with the legendary actress Eleonora Duse takes the couple on a whirlwind odyssey to see her perform. This goal is not easily attained as the duo run into several snafus, but they eventually catch her in Havana, the setting for the remainder of the novel. Along the way, Lucho, an admitted "enthusiast of the flesh," and Wen participate in orgies of food, drugs, drink and sex; search for Lucho's mysterious prodigal uncle; and consider the universe ("Fate is a cat and we are the mice with which she amuses herself"). Drenched in Hemingwayesque detail—bullfight included—and painting an elaborate picture of the cities' political climates, this is a roller-coaster ride of a novel. Readers will either love every minute of it or just feel overwhelmed by Rodríguez's overreaching endeavor. Agent, Tom Colchie. (Apr. 1)
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Antonio Orlando Rodriguez, Ernesto Mestre - Reed (Translator)
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