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December 16, 1990|Charles Solomon

THE PRINCE by R.M. Koster (W.W. Norton: $8.95) R. M. Koster received a National Book Award nomination for the first volume of his trilogy set in the fictional Central American country of Tinieblas. Narrated by the son of a former president of Tinieblas, this darkly compelling tale of political intrigue is as complex as the history of any real nation.

Although his body was crippled in a botched assassination attempt during his own presidential campaign, Kiki Sancudo's mind remains venomously intact. Imprisoned in his ruined flesh, he contemplates revenge and reflects on his country's curious past, with its numerous elections, coups, dictators, scandals and American interventions. Koster's tendency toward hyperbole weakens his effort to depict the extremes of Latin American politics: Kiki has been an Olympic athlete, a stellar actor, a successful gun runner, a charismatic politician, a tireless lover (or satyr; Kiki loves no one but himself) and a champion card player with a psychic ability to read the deck, all with a minimum of effort. His single-minded devotion to vengeance suggests the discipline necessary for his myriad endeavors, but there's no hint of the requisite labor. "The Prince" is an ambitious book, but one whose excesses sometimes cloak its very real strengths.

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