I reviewed Marie Arana’s lively and delightful “Cellophane” for today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

“Marie Arana’s first novel, “Cellophane,” could take a prize for most jam-packed prologue, even judged against breakneck openers by Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, her clear forbears. Arana, editor of the Washington Post’s Book World, may divide her time between D.C. and Lima, Peru, but she draws upon both the color and the literary traditions of Latin America with perfect fluency. Like Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “Cellophane” begins with a vision of our protagonist’s death: “in a bustling metropolis, surrounded by doting women, far from his paper, the trees, and the rush of a great, dark river.” As surely as paper disintegrates to pulp, this exuberant and virtuosic novel will circle around to that alienated ending. But first, in the space of 12 pages, she gives us nearly a whole life.

Don Victor Sobrevilla has two equal loves: engineering and paper. In quick succession, he also acquires a wife, three children, and — after a series of troubled births attended by both priests and witchmen — an ecumenical outlook toward the natives’ magical beliefs and the Peruvian gentry’s Catholic faith. Fascinated since boyhood by a poster of Gustave Eiffel’s “Iron House” deep in the Amazon rain forest, he moves his family far up the river to the untamed Ucayali region, where he builds a bustling paper factory. The awed Indians-turned-workers call him “the shapechanger.”

The story proper picks up in 1952, just as Don Victor discovers a formula for newfangled cellophane. The residents of tiny Floralinda are bewitched, either literally or figuratively, by the film’s shiny transparency. Suddenly everyone is blurting their most candid thoughts, with consequences that are first funny, then erotic and finally disastrous. ”

Click here for the full review.

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