Tag Archives: Manuel Puig

Classic book review: Manuel Puig’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman”

Manuel PuigBefore it was an Oscar-winning movie, before it was a Broadway musical, before it was a widely produced play, there was the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman (Vintage).

Manuel Puig’s 1976 book may be better known for its incarnations as a Tony Award-winning 1993 Broadway musical, with Chita Rivera and Vanessa Williams in the title role, and Oscar-winning 1985 movie starring Sonia Braga, Raul Julia and William Hurt.

The book takes place in the 1970s in an Argentine prison. Two seemingly opposite men — Molina, a gay window dresser, and Valentin, a political dissident — are stuck together. To pass the time, Molina tells the plots of movies, comforting Valentin while he suffers from physical illness and emotional heartache from leaving his girlfriend.

The book consists mostly of dialogue, and Puig excels at writing conservations that sound natural. But I had to endure Molina’s movie plots that drag on for pages and dryly written footnotes that discuss the history of psychiatry’s view of homosexuality. I confess I skipped through some of these passages.

But Puig conveys their loneliness well, such as in this passage:

“It’s as if we were on some desert island. An island on which we may have to remain alone together for years. Because, well, outside of this cell we may have our oppressors, yes, but not inside. Here no one oppresses the other. The only thing that seems to disturb me … because I’m exhausted, or conditioned or perverted … is that someone wants to be nice to me, without asking anything back for it.”

Then the book delivers a hell of a twist — one of the prisoners may be betraying the other.

Spider Woman is a novel that tackles big issues such as homosexuality and Argentine politics. Some of it was tough to get through, but it’s easy to see how it has endured through the years and in many forms.

puigMore about Manuel Puig: The Argentine author, who was born in 1932 and died in 1990, is best known for Spider Woman, but his other books includes 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

 This book is part of my series on classic Latino novels. Up next: Jose Saramago’s Blindness.

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Happy Independence Day, Argentina!

Argentina declared its independence from Spain on July 9, 1816. Pope Francis and soccer player Lionel Messi call the South American country home. The country boasts a romantic image (the tango) and a tumultuous history (the Dirty War, when thousands of young Argentines disappeared in the 1970s) that makes it perfect fodder for its writers. (Face palm. I somehow forgot about Julio Cortázar when I first wrote this. Here’s his profile.)

Jorge_Luis_BorgesJorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) has become one of the most beloved writers of all time thanks to his short stories, which are collected in the books The Aleph and Ficciones. He won the Cervantes Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given to Spanish-language writers. Another Cervantes winner, Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999), wrote the science fiction novel, The Invention of Moral, which was called “perfect” by Borges, a frequent collaborator.

Ernesto_Sabato_circa_1972• Other Cervantes honorees include Ernesto Sábato (1911-2011), left, who tackled psychological issues in books such as The Tunnel, and poet Juan Gelman, whose relatives who went missing during the Dirty War, inspiring  his political activism. The Dirty War is the focus of Carolina DeRobertis’ novel Perla.

puigManuel Puig (1932-1990) wrote one of Latino literature’s most famous works – the 1976 novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, about a gay man and a revolutionary who are trapped in prison together. The novel became a play, a popular Oscar-winning 1985 movie and Broadway musical. He also wrote 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Mempo Giardinelli• Winners of the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, one of Latin America’s most prestigious literary awards, are Abel Posse for Los perros del paraíso; Mempo Giardinelli, left, for Santo oficio de la memoria; and Ricardo Piglia, for Blanco nocturno.

JuliaAmante• Other writers with Argentine roots include Julia Amante, right, author of Say You’ll Be Mine; Annamaria Alfari, whose latest novel, Blood Tango, features Argentina’s most famous political couple, Juan and Eva Peron; quirky novelist César Aira; and Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize winner author of Enrique’s Journey.

Sources: Britannica.com, Wikipedia. Hat tip for Joy Castro for the Borges quote on Casares.

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The Hispanic Reader is one year old today!

It’s The Hispanic Reader’s one-year anniversary! Since my first post, I’ve talked to eight authors, marked 18 writers’ birthdays, reviewed 37 books and written 117 posts. To celebrate, I’m giving you a couple of presents.

First, I created a Features Index that includes links to those author interviews and profiles; lists of books for special occasions (from Christmas to quinceañeras); and features about Latino literature, such as a look at writers who have won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. (I already have an index of book reviews.)

Second, I’ve created a trivia quiz about Latino literature from my posts and book reviews in the past year. (You can find more information about the answers below the quiz.) Good luck and have fun!

1. The answer is D. In the 2001 movie, the flighty Sara (Kate Beckinsale) writes her name and phone number in a copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and tells Jonathan (John Cusack), who she just met, that if their love is meant to be, he will find that copy in a bookstore. Appropriate book since Cholera is about a man who waits 50 years for the woman he loves.

2. The answer is A. Although he is considered one of the top storytellers in Latino literature, Borges never won the Nobel. Only 12 Latinos have, including Paz, Saramago and Vargas Llosa. But Borges did get a Google doodle on his birthday.

3. The answer is B. Luis Valdez began directing plays on a flatbed truck and union halls during the Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s. His theater company is aptly named El Teatro Campesino. Considered the father of Latino theater, he wrote the play Zoot Suit and the directed the movie version and La Bamba.

4. The answer is C. In Il Postino, Pablo Neruda helps an Italian postal carrier woo his love. The 1994 film, based on an Antonio Skarmeta book, earned a Best Picture nomination. The other answers were books – by Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende and Carlos Fuentes – that also were made into movies.

5. The answer is B. Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez takes place in the tiny fictional town of Cabritoville, near El Paso.

6. The answer is B. Malín Alegría dons the elaborate dress in honor of her book Estrelle’s Quinceañera, one of many books about the popular Hispanic tradition. Veronica Chambers wrote the Magdalena and Marisol books; Diana López penned Choke; and Lorraine López authored The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

7. The answer is D. Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig is considered one of the most famous works in Latino literature of the last 50 years.

8. The answer is A. Hanks read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the classic comedy caper.

9. The answer is D. Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2012 for her play, Water by the Spoonful. Hudes, who also wrote 26 Miles and co-wrote the Tony-winner In the Heights, is one of the few Latinos to win the American award for literary arts and journalism. Although they have not won the Pulitzer, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros and Cristina García have written novels that have received strong critical acclaim.

10. The answer is C. Pablo Neruda knew Gabriela Mistral when he was growing up in Temuco, Chile. Fuentes and Paz are from Mexico. Allende is from Chile, but a generation younger than Neruda. Her uncle, President Salvador Allende, was friends with Neruda, a relationship depicted in Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case.

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A look at LGBT Latino writers

June is Gay Pride Month. Here’s a look at some Latino writers who have written about the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered experience:

• Poet Francisco X. Alarcón, right, is best known for his Pura Belpré Honor Award-winning book Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y Otros Poemas de Primavera, but he has written about the gay experience in his numerous poems and is working on an anthology of gay Latino poetry.

Jeanne Córdova, left, was on the forefront of the gay rights and women’s movement in the 1970s. Her most recent book, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love & Revolution, was partly written in Mexico. The book recently won the Lesbian Memoir/Biography prize from the 24th Annual Lambda Literary Awards.

• The late Manuel Puig, right, wrote one of Latino literature’s most famous works – the 1976 novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, about a gay man and a revolutionary who are trapped in prison together – which became a play, a popular 1985 movie and Broadway musical. He also wrote 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Charles Rice-Gonzalez, left, wrote the 2011 book Chulito, about a young gay man growing up in the Bronx, and co-edited the book From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction with Charlie Vázquez. Vásquez is active in promoting gay Latino poetry, and has created poetry readings for gay Latino writers in the East Village in New York City.

Alex Sanchez, right, has won numerous awards for his young adult novels about being gay. His books include Rainbow Boys and Boyfriends with Girlfriends. His website offers resources and other book selections for LGBT teens.

Anybody I miss? Let me know in the comments.

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Happy birthday, Manuel Puig!

The Argentine author was born on this day in 1932 and died in Mexico in 1990. His 1976 novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, may be one of the most famous pieces of Latino literature of the last 50 years.

The book – about a gay man and a revolutionary who are trapped in prison together – was not well read when it was first released. But it won some major awards, and Puig adapted it into a stage play. Spider Woman was made into a 1985 movie starring Sonia Braga, Raul Julia and William Hurt, who won an Academy Award for his role. It was also made into a Broadway musical that won numerous Tony Awards in 1993, including Best Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Chita Rivera.

His other books include 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Here’s a collection of New York Times articles about Puig.

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