The Lizard’s Tail by Luisa Valenzuela

About Luisa Valenzuela: From the Paris Review: “Luisa Valenzuela, the oldest daughter of a prominent Argentine writer, Luisa Mercedes Levinson, was born in Buenos Aires in 1938. The Levinson home was a gathering place for Argentina’s literary community—Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, among others, were frequent guests—and Valenzuela, an omnivorous reader, started writing at an early age. She published her first story, “Ese canto,” in 1958.

Later that year, having married a French sailor, Valenzuela moved to Paris, where she worked as a correspondent for the Argentine newspaper El Mundo…her first novel, Hay que sonreír, was published in 1966 and a collection of stories, Los Heréticos, appeared the next year. The two books were translated into English and published as Clara: Thirteen Short Stories and a Novel in 1976.

Valenzuela moved to New York City in 1978, but her fiction continued to be informed by Argentina and the political turmoil of the 1970s. She lived in the city for the next decade teaching at Columbia and New York universities. Cambio de armas (Other Weapons), which includes the autobiographical novella “Fourth Version,” was published in 1982. In 1981 she started work on Cola de lagartija (The Lizard’s Tail), a roman à clef based on the life of Perón’s minister of social welfare, José López Rega, who appears in the novel as the Sorcerer, a man with three testicles. The novel was published in 1983…”

The Lizard’s Tail provides a unique perspective on authoritarianism because it’s not from the point of view of the country’s dictator as such, but from its radical element whose tyrannical aspirations almost put to shame the average despot for his sheer pseudoscientific mania (the consequences on the people mostly being in the background). As far as despots go, there’s Hussien, who commissioned a copy of the Qur’an to be written using his own blood, and of course Hitler and his promotion of Welteislehre, but this novel’s Sorcerer is a figure unto himself, with Rasputinarian aspects of mysticism, who runs a Kingdom of the Black Lagoon with a castle inspired by/dedicated to red ants. At times, the hyperbolic satire of his behavior reminded me a bit of the dictator in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s epic opus Wizard of the Crow. The behavior of the Sorcerer is perhaps more disturbing than funny (yet it fluctuates), including golden showers, ant-based torture, infanticide, and much talk about a third testicle that is not only feminized but is ostensibly the seed-womb-child of the Sorcerer’s impending transmogrification.

To get a…taste…of his behavior, read this passage, which describes how the Sorcerer eats babies, the hors d’oeuvre which pleases most politicians’ palates: “Inevitably, the apple won’t fit in the tiny mouth, newborn meat is too insipid, too white, and though he swallows it happily in the knowledge that he is master of lives and properties, the next morning he has stomach cramps. He doesn’t care: a rite has been celebrated. One must take some part or other in human reproduction, and he finds himself at the other end of the assembly line: he incorporates the fruit of human reproduction into his own organism, assimilating it. He doesn’t spend his precious energy in improbable partnerships.”

The novel explores the concept of “I” by introducing the author as a character about halfway through the book or so and positing that both the Sorcerer and Valenzuela are writing a novel about the former personage. Although, I did find the author’s voice much less interesting than the voice of the biography’s raison d’etre, but her presence does add layers, metafictional and otherwise. Occasionally, identity, as well as those pesky concepts known as truth and reality, overlaps or subsumes itself, the fate of any country that is seeking an elusive ‘greatness’ for the ‘second’ or umpteenth time when in fact one must ask oneself, What is ever really ‘great’ on the grinding evolution of society and culture, what does such subjectivity actually mean?

The prose is fairly sufficient while sometimes bubbling with linguistic mana, sometimes a cliché here and there, although a few of these could be written off as the fault of the Sorcerer’s personality and voice, with villainous aspirations akin to a paranormal Lex Luthor. There’s some wordplay, although only enough to act as a tease, a healthy dose of Borgesian surrealism, and interesting postmodern elements.

While the snaking blood trail in 100 Years of Solitude is a way to signify the spread of news of a child’s death to the mother, The Lizard’s Tail ends with a foretold river of blood that turns out to be a lengthy yet thin and limp finger of blood, perhaps the true impetus for all dictatorial desires. The Fuhrer’s flaccid fury!

While reading this novel, I had a feeling that the worship of a dead woman’s corpse was familiar, only to realize that a book which has been awaiting me on my shelf, Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez, is focused on the same idolized cadaver. I look forward to seeing how these two novels complement each other.

All in all, put down Márquez for a moment and pick up Valenzuela for a change. There’s no reason this novel should gather dust.

Editor’s note: The aim of Invisible Books is to shine a light on wrongly neglected and forgotten books and their authors. To help bring more attention to these works of art, please share this article on social media.

George Salis is the award-winning author of Sea Above, Sun Below (forthcoming from River Boat Books, 2019). His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThe Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on FacebookGoodreads, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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