Xul Solar. Pintor del misterio by Álvaro Abós (Sudamericana), 320 pages
Xul Solar (1887-1963) was one of the greatest Argentine painters. His watercolour miniatures, which can be found in the great museums of the world, reflect a poetic universe which is as original as it is unfathomable. Oscar Agustín Alejandro Schulz Solari (his real name) was not only a painter but also an astrologer, inventor, musician, linguist, puppet-master, architect, designer and philosopher. On the basis of exhaustive research work, Álvaro Abós has assembled various details and anecdotes from the vanguard icon’s life and times. Here Abós does what he likes best — delve into the history of this city where he has lived all his life. His subjects have been as varied as the writers Macedonio Fernández and Roberto Arlt, Adolf Eichmann (during the years he was hiding here) and the trade unionist Augusto Vandor (of “Peronism without Perón” fame), among others.
Pablo Escobar in fraganti by Juan Pablo Escobar (Planeta), 246 pages.
Always difficult to admit that one’s own father might not have been a very nice man yet Juan Pablo Escobar does not shrink from that reality when writing about the notorious Medellín drug lord. In order to add impact by driving home the direct family link, the author writes under that name but that is not what he calls himself these days — a convinced pacifist, he has disowned his father so completely that he has not only changed his surname to Marroquín Santos but also erased the “Pablo,” replacing it with Juan Sebastián. This is actually his second book on the subject — if Pablo Escobar, Mi Padre, Las historias que no deberíamos saber was mostly first-hand, its successor (as implied by its subtitle Lo que mi padre nunca me contó) draws its information from other people who knew his father such as informers, paramilitary leaders, members of other drug dynasties, etc. Which still leaves enough mysteries in Escobar’s violently colourful life to make a third book highly likely.
Sombras rusas by Liliana Villanueva (Blatt & Ríos), 150 pages.
Villanueva and her partner are the Argentine counterparts of Sidney and Beatrice Webb in travelling to Russia soon after a major transformation — the Webbs were ardent British socialists who wrote “The Soviet Union: a New Civilisation” soon after the Russian Revolution whose centenary is being marked this year although the third edition of that book (published after they had actually visited Russia) made the significant addition of a question-mark to that title. If the Webbs described the Soviet Union as a paradise on earth, Villanueva’s perception of the Russia to which she moved in the mid-1990s soon after the Soviet collapse to spend four years in Moscow is decidedly more complex. Problems shaking off the Soviet ghost (hence the title), concludes Villanueva, but her journalistic work is not as single-mindedly political as the Webbs. Her book has value for the tourist since she describes her visits to cities, buildings, monuments, Siberia and the “secret” inland Russia, as well as everyday life.