patricia mulcahy

  I first heard of Federico Andahazi in March of 1997, when word filtered back from the London Book Fair about an exciting and controversial new novel from Latin America. El Anatomista had quite suddenly burst onto the literary scene in Buenos Aires after winning Argentina's prestigious Fortabat Prize, sponsored by the wealthy Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat. When Mrs. Fortabat herself read the book she was scandalized, canceling the award ceremony for the prize and calling Andahazi a "communist porn artist" whose work did not "contribute to the exaltation of the most elevated values of the human spirit." This reaction in turn sparked an uproar among Argentina's writers and literary critics, who accused Mrs. Fortabat of an effort at censorship. I found the controversy particular interesting because I had heard that El Anatomista itself was centrally concerned with censorship and hypocrisy, as well as the nature of female sexuality--themes which ironically found themselves played out in the scandal surrounding the book's publication.

There was no English translation available at the time, but reports from Spanish-language readers were tantalizing. El Anatomista was called "a sort of Chaucer meets Armistead Maupin, in a Garcia Marquezesque voice"; "a highly entertaining medieval picaresque romp"; and "enormously appealing" with a "strong ironic narrator's voice." Readers stressed the book's intelligence and humor, as well as its undeniably commercial hook--the fact that its central character, Mateo Colombo, was a Renaissance anatomist who became the first Westerner to document the existence of the clitoris. I was also intrigued because Doubleday had had great success several years ago with Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, which we published simultaneously in English and Spanish. Federico Andahazi struck me as an exciting new talent that we could introduce to North American audiences in two languages.

Together with my colleague Marianne Velmans at Transworld in London, we made a preemptive bid for English language rights to El Anatomista, as well as Spanish rights in North America. Our offer was quickly accepted, and we turned to the task of finding an appropriate translator. To our great pleasure, Alberto Manguel, the noted critic and author of The History of Reading, offered to take on the translation, and his brilliant rendition of The Anatomist landed on my desk earlier this year.

I'm pleased to report that Andahazi's novel more than lives up to the hype surrounding its original publication in Argentina. It is that rare treasure for a publisher: an intellectually subversive book that is also great fun to read. The novel takes place in a fascinating time, when powerful superstitions and religious fervor were being challenged by the findings and methods of a newly burgeoning science. Masterfully navigating the treacherous waters of science and religion, sexuality and hypocrisy, censorship and discovery, Andahazi brings readers the captivating story of a time and place that may have more in common with today's world than readers would expect.
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Copyright © 1998 Patricia Mulcahy.