I’D never heard of Chilean José Donoso until I saw this novel on the bargain shelf at No Alibis in Belfast and bought it after just a quick scan through it. The blurb name checks Vargas Llosa, García Márquez but not Borges - yet it was the Argentinain’s writing that struck me as the best comparison to Donoso.
Taratuta is the name of a Ukranian pre-revolutionary associate of Lenin’s, and Donoso’s narrative flashes back to this period and to a modern day Taratuta from Buenos Aires who is living in Madrid and who may or may not be descended from the Bolshevik.
The novella is as much about the process of storytelling and creating fiction from a speculative scenario. The narrator constructs stories about both the historical figure and the young man who he meets in Madrid. The modern-day Taratuta knows only that his father was a drifter and so was his grandfather. When the narrator learns this he starts to construct a family history, linking the young man to his historic namesake.
When new facts emerge the narrator changes his speculative narrative and constantly challenges his own version of events by acknowledging that there may be no link between the two men at all.
Taratuta is loosely constructed and has the feel of being almost experimental and unfinished as if Donoso was toying with the novella form, which is possibly why it made me think of Borges who often took an idea or scenario and toyed with it to create a short narrative piece rather than fleshing it out into a full-scale novel.