Against the throbbing backdrop of this shimmering and decadent city- almost a character in itself-Maxine Swann has created a stunning narrative of reawakened sensuality and compulsive desire that simultaneously explores with remarkable acuity themes of foreignness, displacement, and the trembling metamorphoses that arise from such states. From the award-winning, critically celebrated author of Flower Children, The Foreigners is a startlingly bold and original, unforgettable next novel.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Title: The Foreigners
Author: Maxine Swann
Themes: travel, escape, divorce, sexuality, manipulation, cruelty, ambition, independence
Plot: Buenos Aires is a city of Parisian affections and national anxiety, of amorous young lovers, seedy ports, flooded slums, and a dazzling social elite. Into this heady maze of contradiction and possibility enter two women: Daisy, an American divorcée; and Isolde, a beautiful, lonely Austrian. In Buenos Aires, Isolde finds that her blond European looks afford her entrée to the kind of elite, alluring social world she never would have had access to in her home country, but her ascension also sets her up for a long, surprising fall. Meanwhile, Daisy joins forces with Leonarda, a chameleonic Argentine with radical dreams of rebellion, who transfixes Daisy with her wild effervescence. Soon, Daisy is throwing off her American earnestness and engaging in a degree of passion, manipulation, and risk-taking in a way she never has before. Buenos Aires has allowed her to become someone else.
My Thoughts: Like Swann's previous novel, The Foreigners is sultry and exotic for it's strangeness in a familiar context. For some reason I classify them both as "summer" stories. They both seem to resonate oppressive summer heat and humidity, and the lethargy of a hot summer day...it's illogical but I thought I would share.
In The Foreigners a recently divorced American woman (Daisy) is fortunate enough to live freely in Beunos Aires in exchange for a study of waterworks. The novel revolves around a colorful cast of both natives and fellow ex-pats. She walks along touristy and homey streets, she flits through parties and her run down apartment, but the protagonist seems to delve deeper and deeper into some inexplicable madness after befriending Leonarda-who manipulates and torments others.
In an attempt to broaden her horizons and embrace life as she couldn't back home, Daisy instead seems to spiral out of control and instead begins mimicking the cruel and unreasonable acts of Leonarda. Swann tiptoes into the absurd as the novel progresses. By the end of the book The Foreigners feels more like a surrealist dream sequence than a travel story-and one closes the book with a vague sense of repulsion.
While not all of the characters or sub-plots were equally fleshed out or connected, The Foreigners was an absorbing and entertaining book. Overall, this was an interesting study in depravity and the absurd but I much preferred the more realistic and heart-felt characters and plots from Swann's previous novel Flower Children.
Recommendation: If you are a fan of travel narratives, especially located in Latin America, this fictional account of a divorcee's experience in Buenos Aires may be right up your alley. I found this novel lacked any sort of (positive) character growth or conclusions (at least believable ones), so if you prefer those elements you may wish to avoid The Foreigners. I was entertained and challenged by this short novel, and so recommend it with some hesitation.
Similar Reads: Flower Children by Maxine Swann, The Lover by Marguerite Duras
Swann, Maxine. The Foreigners. New York: Riverhead Books, 2011.