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the Complete Review
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Pot Pourri

Eugenio Cambaceres

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To purchase Pot Pourri

Title: Pot Pourri
Author: Eugenio Cambaceres
Genre: Novel
Written: 1882 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 165 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Pot Pourri - US
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  • Whistlings of an Idler
  • Spanish title: Potpourri
  • Translated by Lisa Dillman
  • Edited and with an Introduction by Josefina Ludmer

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Our Assessment:

B+ : spirited clever fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Eugenio Cambaceres' Pot Pourri is a particularly brisk and lively late 19th century Argentinian novel. The nameless narrator is a 40 year-old confirmed bachelor, proud of his dandy-idler lifestyle. The story he tells begins with his friend Juan on the verge of marrying María, and the narrator then continues to find himself involved with the couple. When he eventually discovers María is having an affair he also plays a role in sorting things out.
       The carnival-setting of many of the central scenes adds to the fun -- though it is, in any case, a very showy, theatrical novel, with the narrator prancing, preening, and declaiming. Comparisons to dramas, actors, and theatrical conventions also abound -- the world here really is very much a stage, the narrator a sometime-participant in the (melo-)drama, as well as occasional director and author. This goes for the main story line as much as the smaller ones -- as he, for example, describes the "political farce, played out in four acts, that consolidates the ideal of our republican existence", some ten pages of a play-summary that is a hilarious (and very sharp) reflection of the political situation of the day.
       Pot Pourri offers an abundance of political, social, and cultural criticism, with Cambaceres slyly poking fun at what seems like every aspect of Argentinian society. The book is also a reaction to traditional literature, a breath of very fresh air at the time it was published (a whiff of which remains even now). Unlike the Argentinian novels of the day the narrator dares offer blasphemies like: "Mother Nature, says me, has an old wrinkled visage; the pampas strike me as the most tedious, monotonous corner on God's green earth". And how can one not like a narrator who suggests: "Banish hyperbole, metaphor, and figures of speech" (not that that is something he can live up to) ?
       The tone is cosmopolitan, and literary references and French (and Latin) bon mots are liberally sprinkled throughout the text. The story is also told in an impatient, jumpy voice, the story presented in a quick successions of short sentences and paragraphs, skimming along while often repeating for emphasis ("the whole ordeal was un four, a failure, a fiasco" is a typical sort of description). It's an effective rushed style, mirroring the narrator's own unsettledness:

     Oh, I can see it now !
     Not bad, eh ?
     Laconic, concise, no digressions, no inopportune hysteria.
     Bitter pills are best swallowed quickly.
     When one goes to have a tooth pulled, one prays to God that the dentist pulls it, crack ! quick as a whip.
       The story itself is also engaging enough, and the narrator presents it all (and himself) in winning fashion. The OUP edition (part of their Library of Latin America series) also comes with a good introduction by Josefina Ludmer, placing the novel in its literary-historical context. The book also has the introduction that Cambaceres added for the third edition of 1883, 'A Few Words from the Author', addressing some of the scandal that surrounded the book since the main characters were thought to be identifiable as actual figures from Buenos Aires society.
       An enjoyable work.

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Pot Pourri: Eugenio Cambaceres: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian writer Eugenio Cambaceres (1843-1889) wrote four novels.

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© 2003-2011 the complete review

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