This coming-of-age story (384 pages) was published in July of 2015 by Knopf. The book takes you to 1913 Buenos Aires. Melissa read The Gods of Tango and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
This is a lush story about immigration, found family, tango, and sexual identity set in early 1900s Buenos Aires.
In real life, there was a massive wave of immigration of Italian and Spanish immigrants to Argentina in the late 19th century.
In this book, it’s 1913. Our heroine Leda leaves her Italian village to join her husband in Buenos Aires. She’s just 17 years old with a small trunk and one family heirloom: her father’s violin. On the upside, she knows her husband. He’s a lifelong friend from the village. Their plan to escape their small, claustrophobic lives has come to fruition — a fresh start in the Americas awaits.
But when Leda arrives at the dock in Buenos Aires, she’s met by a stranger. Her husband Dante has been killed by the police at a labor protest. She makes her way to the conventillo, the tenement, that was supposed to be their home.
The conventillo could not be less like her Italian village. A warren of single rooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom, the conventillo buzzes with activity. Whole families live in a tiny room, and groups of bachelors — six or eight of them — share a single room, sleeping in shifts. The women work from home, doing light sewing to make a little extra money. There’s a sense of community — an extended family of the displaced — forged while waiting in line for the bathroom and sharing meals.
Grateful, but afraid, Leda has few options. She’s a widowed, single girl — still a teenager — with no family and no opportunities. Her only saving grace is that she loves music and has a natural gift for playing the violin. But women can’t play music. Frowned upon in private, it’s impossible in public.
Then Leda gets a diabolically good idea. She chops off her hair, binds her breasts, dresses in men’s clothing, and takes her husband’s name. Leda becomes Dante.
This story explores the whole arc of Leda-Dante’s life from immigrant girl to male musician, and it has everything: There are brawls and heartfelt conversations. Smokey bars and elegant dance halls filled with the sensuous sounds of the tango. Moments of genuine camaraderie among Dante’s found family and heart-breaking betrayal.
This is also a deep exploration of gender roles, from Dante himself and his Dante’s hypermasculine bandmates to two women — a brassy club owner and a brazen tango singer — who defy stereotypes.
Poignant, suspenseful, tender, and gorgeously written, this unforgettable story will immerse you in the smoky, music-infused nightlife of Buenos Aires.
He counted to four. And then it happened. Music. It surged out of string and finger in harsh communion, weeping from the terrible pleasure of the bow. Guitar strings shook and deepened the well of sorrow. Carlo sang. Something about the night clutching his heart, something about a woman… The sound ensnared her. It invaded her bones, urged her blood. She didn’t know herself; it now occurred to her that she knew nothing about the world, could not have known a thing when she didn’t know the world contained this sensation, such sound, such wakefulness, a melody as rich as night. — Carolina De Robertis
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