The Foreigners by Maxine Swann
Riverhead • $25.95 • on sale August 18, 2011
I mentioned a couple of months ago that I went on vacation to Argentina in May, and upon my return was eager to read The Foreigners by Maxine Swann, which takes place in Buenos Aires. Now that my trip is many weeks behind me, I am especially happy when I slip into the world of Swann’s pages. Soon you can, too; the novel comes out on August 18.
The story is about Daisy, an American woman who moves to Buenos Aires in search of an escape after she and her husband divorce. In Argentina, Daisy meets Leonarda—an Argentine who belongs to an underground society—and Isolde, an Austrian woman who hopes to make it in high society. Though the Buenos Aires I visited in 2011 is different from the Buenos Aires depicted here—the story takes place in 2002, right after the country’s economic collapse—I still recognize the city Swann passionately describes.
If you’ve ever been in a foreigner in another country, perhaps you will relate to this excerpt:
The foreigners in Buenos Aires invite the upper-tier Argentines to theme parties, tea parties or Thursday night wine parties. These are foreigners with money. They have tasteful apartments, on Arroyo, in Recoleta. The Argentines go, playing their role, as upper-tier Argentines, Third World aristocrats. They pose, they’re amusing, and utterly amenable, mixing with the foreigners, speaking different languages. Unless you were watching loosely and were suspicious—and most foreigners aren’t—you would never catch the glances shot between them. But already, among the Argentines, in the paneled elevator downward, the mockery begins.
While the foreigner, much as he wants to be liked, also feels somewhere deep inside that he’s really done the Argentines a favor, by being here in this country at all, and then associating with them, inviting them to his home, the Argentine is overly conscious of the foreigner’s absurdity. Feeling, despite himself and solely for the amorphous quality of being foreign, that the foreigner is superior, he at the same time finds the foreigner vulgar, ignorant, poorly instructed, even lacking physical harmony. The woman’s head is too big. The German has the rabbit features of the inbred. a few satiric comments exchanged, the Argentines walk away down the evening street with their beauty intact, this natural beauty that springs up effortlessly, mysteriously, generation after generation, according to a correct application of the laws of reproduction.
What are you reading today? Are you interested in The Foreigners? For more on Swann, read a review of her second novel, Flower Children, “an impressively constructed narrative about a pair of hippie parents and the children they raise in the Pennsylvania farm country during the 1970s and ’80s.”