Some years back, my parents vacationed in Buenos Aires and came back raving about the beauty and vibrancy of the city. So when I stumbled upon Maxine Swann’s new novel, The Foreigners (Riverhead, 2011), I was game.
The title refers to the First Worlders who arrived in Buenos Aires either before or after the crash and think they can live like kings or queens because they come from a more sophisticated country.
And of course the joke’s on them.
Daisy, the protagonist, flees the US after her 9 year marriage ends. Not sure what to do with her life, she takes the advice of a friend to move some place new. This friend hooks her up with a grant to study the water system in Buenos Aires.
Daisy meets a slew of characters in her new home:
* Gabriel, a former medical student who, after the crash, becomes a bike messenger and gigolo;
* Isolde, an Austrian social climber who’s really hurting–financially and romantically–just as much as everyone else; and
* Leonarda, a local chemeleon who transforms from geek to glamour girl with a flip of her wrist (shedding a sweater to reveal a slinky top and whipping on makeup while they wait for a street light to change).
Upon meeting in a ramshackle building where Daisy lives and Gabriel works, the two become close friends. Gabriel explains how his gigolo job is quiet easy because he doesn’t form emotional bonds with his clients. Yet he advises her to experience life to its fullest. Don’t hold back.
That’s when her friendship with Leonarda starts to delve into the realm of Single White Female, but without the violence. Daisy can’t stay away from Leonarda, even when her new friend recruits her for crazy schemes that could get them both arrested. This relationship also reminds me of the 1980s film, After Hours.
In the end, Daisy breaks down and only stays sane after putting some distance between herself and Leonarda. She’s beaten Leonarda at her own game. Or has she?
There’s plenty of spice and allure in this novel and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys sultry stories set in foreign lands.
I’m anxious to see Buenos Aires now.