(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As the novel begins, Susana translates and discusses articles from the newspaper with other members of a revolutionary group called “the Screwery.” A telegram from London and a reference to something called the “Vincennes business” constitute the reader’s introduction to the group’s plan to smuggle counterfeit money in order to finance a political kidnapping. The target is a top Latin American police official, referred to as the Vip, whose headquarters are in Paris. He is to be held for ransom until Latin American political prisoners are released.

As the kidnapping preparations are under way, Andres takes Francine to a sleazy bar. He then tells her about a dream in which he sees himself in a film theater which has two screens at right angles. He is there to see a Fritz Lang thriller. Suddenly a messenger arrives and tells him that a Cuban wants to speak with him. Andres follows the messenger until he enters a room where he sees a figure on a sofa. It is the Cuban. At this point, the most important point in the dream, the dream’s narrative is interrupted. The next thing that Andres sees is himself, now spectator of and participant in a thriller, leaving the room. Andres interprets the dream to mean that since he has spoken to the Cuban, he now has a mission to fulfill. He has no idea, however, what the mission might be. Andres’s quest is directed toward one goal: to find the message cut from his dream, a message that will show him the road he should...

(The entire section is 604 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The novel, a mixture of fact and fiction, humor and eroticism, concerns itself with political conditions in Latin America. Cortázar wrote the novel in order to expose the systematic torture of political prisoners. Since his other books had been best sellers throughout Latin America, he hoped that this novel would enjoy wide circulation and influence. In part to avert censorship, he did not include a political treatise, expressing his socialist vision for Latin America, in the book. Instead, he chose a bizarre mixture of fantasy and fact: The plot is fiction, but the news articles inserted in the text are factual. The novel’s protagonist, Andrés, is, like Cortázar, the product of two worlds—middle-class comfort and socialist commitment—and Cortázar implies that a blind adherence to either might deny the individual the very freedom that he most values.

A Manual for Manuel is about the kidnapping of a Latin American diplomat by a group of strange guerrillas in Paris. It has two narrators. One is one of the guerrillas, jokingly referred to as “you know who,” who takes notes on the assault plans. The other is Andrés, who is indecisive about joining the group and who uncovers the plot of the novel by reading those plans. The articles that interrupt the plot are from actual French and Latin American newspapers. These articles concern individual protests against the torture of political prisoners in such countries as Brazil, Argentina, and...

(The entire section is 566 words.)