The tango singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez


The Tango Singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez

Argentinean fiction

Original title –  El cantor de tango

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – personnel copy

Will they marvel at the miracles I did perform
And the heights I did aspire
Or will they tear out the pages of the book
To light a fire

With the rain on my face
There is no place that I belong
Did you forget this fucking singer so soon?
And did you forget my song?

The last two verses of the song The singer by Nick cave remind me of Julio in a way .


Well I’ve left it till near the end to finally join in Richards Argentinean theme writers of doom event for last three months of 2014 .I finally choose another book by a writer whose two previous books I have reviewed here and enjoyed .Tomas Eloy martinez I have reviewed on the blog  Santa Evita and Purgatory  , two books  for me that  rank among my favourite books from Latin America so I’m surprised it took me this long to get The tango singer which has sat on the shelves for a good few years .Martinez was Journalist and academic as well ,being a writer , he passed away in 2010 .

No one knew why Martel performed in such inhospitable places , without charging a cent .At the end of spring of 2001 there were lots of clubs , theaters , bars and Milongas in Buenos Aires that would have welcomed him with open arms .Perhaps he was ashamed of exposing a body mercilessly abused by illness day after day

Julio just plays in dark corners of the city that are hard to follow .

The tango singer follows the story of Bruno Cadogan , who has been given the chance as a student to go to Buenos Aires to study .But he is happy because he has become gripped by Tango singers and he has heard of one such singer from the city Julio Martel , who has never been recorded singing and doesn’t really do concerts more turns up and starts singing never announced. His voice is considered the best Tango singer ever .So Bruno arrives in the city and is hunting to see this old man sing , but along the way we find out Julio story how he became such a star and how sad is life is .Add to this Bruno is a bit of a literary romantic so wants to see the city of Borges , the story Aleph by Borges gets mentioned quite a lot as a reference point maybe for Bruno own journey through the city and finally meeting this mysterious singer .

A few days after arriving I visited the house at 994 Maipu street where Borges had lived for more than forty years, and I had the sensation that I’d seen it somewhere else or , which was worse , that it was a scene destined to disappear as soon as I turned my back .

Borges crops up a lot in the book his ghost still seems to haunt both the city and Martinez in this book .

I love the layer Martinez builds in this book as we take its twists and turns  .Julio and Bruno are like two planets orbiting  around the city of Buenos Aires and Borges is like the sun of the centre of the  city and eventually these two planets will eclipse one another .Oh I can be a little abstract at times, this book is  really an ode to a city warts and all , to the writers and singers that live with in that city .Martinez builds the tension as Bruno gets closer to Julio but also in the dark past of the city makes this feel like a thriller at times .I would picture this book making a great film the young man on the quest to find the old sage of a singer . Martinez manages to capture the good and bad of a city which he spent some time in but he had lived many years in exile and this feels more about the city he remembered than the city at the time the book is set .If you have read any other of his books I’m sure you will love this one and if you need an introduction to him this is maybe a good one to start with as it has bits of each of the other two books I’ve read .Well can’t see it be too long before I read The Peron novel by him .

Have you a favourite book about music or singers ?

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MarinaSofia
    Dec 15, 2014 @ 16:26:32

    I’ve just started dancing tango recently, so this sounds like a book I could relate to. One book I read a couple of years ago but have remembered now is Fatal Tango by Wolfram Fleischauer – which is a strange thriller/love story/political mix. Contains a lot of information about tango music and dancing though.


  2. JacquiWine
    Dec 15, 2014 @ 18:35:33

    I’d never heard of this book, Stu, but it does sound very evocative and visual. As you say, it could be the basis for a great film.


  3. Anokatony
    Dec 16, 2014 @ 04:04:25

    I loved Santa Evita, so ‘The Tango Singer’ looks like a good bet.


  4. Col
    Dec 16, 2014 @ 15:28:13

    Sounds like interesting book and in a city am fascinated by – don’t know why but have always wanted to go there and live there! Will read this as stop gap to taking up residence! As for book with singer I loved Vina Apsara in Rushdie’s Ground Beneath Her Feet!


  5. Richard
    Dec 17, 2014 @ 06:38:37

    Thanks so much for participating in this year’s Doom event, Stu, and what a nice surprise to see you settle on this particular novel for your contribution. I remember it having blown me away when I read it back in the pre-blog days; for some reason, it really sparked my interest in diving into the deep end of Argentinean literature–a dive I’ve never regretted. By the way, I love your description of the two main characters being “like two planets orbiting around the city of Buenos Aires.” I think that totally fits! P.S. Hope to get to The Perón Novel and some of Eloy Martínez’s nonfiction next year. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything by him, but your review really puts me in the mood to reconnect with the author.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

December 2014


%d bloggers like this: