Zulfikar Ghose has cut loose on a joy ride across oceans of improbability just to pound home the message: Be careful what you dream, it may come true. Dreams can breed myopia, self-destruction.
Poor civil servant Felipe Gamboa wants a job promotion so bad he can not only taste it, he can almost set it on the table. His hopes prove his undoing, however, when, angry at not getting the promotion, he turns to drink, then to berating his wife, unjustly accusing his teen-age daughter Mariana and socking her boyfriend Federico. From there, in this country much like Chile, it’s a short hop to real trouble, false arrest and exile. He loses his entire world, and all because he wanted a little pay raise.
Federico, propelled into his own search for dream fulfillment, steals money from his parents, loses it all to confidence men, and winds up with a magical amulet that gives his every wish a terrible O. Henry twist. Seeking wealth and women, he is ushered into the life of a gigolo, a kept boy. His life becomes as weirdly fulfilling as Gamboa’s seems to be wretchedly unfulfilling.
Although author Ghose is Pakistani by birth, he has lived in Brazil and has full mastery of that cornucopic story richness so beloved of Latin American writers. This tale just keeps spilling riches on the reader as if from, well, a horn of plenty. (The poet-author-teacher is a professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.)
There is a stern moral sense here watching the world as people let high hopes dissolve into pipe dreams. Mariana forgets her own life for the cares of an extravagant TV soap opera. Federico, wandering the earth and pining for his lost Mariana, cannot dare to make another wish for fear it might backfire on him. Everyone gets a bumptious motivation from their private figures of enchantment, and the outside world is not much different from that seen by a girl who has lived her whole life on a remote desert island: “She looked at the horizon and imagined there was an invisible line there where fantastic forms skirmished in a ceaseless endeavor to invade and overwhelm commonly held beliefs.”
The end of this tale is filled with more preposterous coincidences than an old Hollywood movie, even if it does have a pointedly non-Hollywood message. Right up to the final swooping sentence, Ghose issues warning that dreams will kill you, but his powers are so engrossing that the reader only wants to say, “Wait, come back, don’t stop now; please continue with this dark fantasy; it may be wrong but I love this dream. . . .”
Quite an irony.