Figures of Enchantment

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The characters in FIGURES OF ENCHANTMENT desperately desire a magical transformation of their impoverished lives. As Vivado, the underworld dream merchant says, “...people crave for an alternative world to the one in which they live. They’ll go any distance to see if it isn’t to be found somewhere.” Zulfikar Ghose gives this central human longing an unexpected twist by letting his characters get what they want.

Felipe Gamboa is a poor civil servant in an unnamed South American city who sustains his life by fantasizing alternative worlds. His dreams center in his beautiful daughter, Mariana, and in imagining himself a wealthy man. His dreams of wealth are constantly stimulated by pictures in his office of Pacific islands which invite him to “a brightness everywhere.” Through a bizarre series of events, Gamboa suddenly is transported to his island paradise.

Federico Chagra also dreams of Mariana, but he is a poor boy with no future. He steals money from his father to win his fortune at the cockfights, but loses it all to a con artist. Federico’s search for the swindler takes him to Popayan’s costume shop. Popayan sells him an amulet and a magic cloak, announcing the major theme of the novel: “Nothing can protect you from your desires. You will wish and you will receive more than you can bear to possess.” Federico’s wishes for “excitement, women, wealth” all come true in a series of exotic adventures.

However, getting what they desire turns out to be more than the characters can bear. In a series of deftly ironic plot moves, Ghose exposes their dreams as destructive illusions. But the discovery that each dream is empty only leads the men to formulate new fantasies of power, wealth, and love. Overwhelming needs for alternative worlds keep all the characters permanent prisoners of their self-created figures of enchantment.