February 1913: seventeen-year-old Leda, carrying only a small trunk and her father’s cherished violin, leaves her Italian village for a new home, and a new husband, in Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires, she discovers that he has been killed, but she remains: living in a tenement, without friends or family, on the brink of destitution. Still, she is seduced by the music that underscores life in the city: tango, born from lower-class immigrant voices, now the illicit, scandalous dance of brothels and cabarets.
Leda eventually acts on a long-held desire to master the violin, knowing that she can never play in public as a woman. She cuts off her hair, binds her breasts, and becomes “Dante,” a young man who joins a troupe of tango musicians bent on conquering the salons of high society. Now, gradually, the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur, and feelings that she has long kept suppressed reveal themselves, jeopardizing not only her musical career, but her life.
Richly evocative of place and time, its prose suffused with the rhythms of the tango, its narrative at once resonant and gripping, this is De Robertis’s most accomplished novel yet.
CAROLINA DE ROBERTIS was raised in England, Switzerland, and California by Uruguayan parents. She is the author of two previous novels, Perla and The Invisible Mountain (a Best Book of 2009 according to theSan Francisco Chronicle, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Booklist), the recipient of Italy’s Rhegium Julii Prize, and a 2012 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has spent the past year living in Uruguay, but her permanent home is in Oakland, CA.