The late Severo Sarduy was one of the most outrageous and baroque of the Latin American Boom writers of the sixties and seventies, and here bound back to back are his two finest creations. Cobra (1972) recounts the tale of a transvestite named Cobra, star of the Lyrical Theater of the Dolls, whose obsession is to transform his/her body. She is assisted in her metamorphosis by the Madam and Pup, Cobra’s dwarfish double. They too change shape, through the violent ceremonies of a motorcycle gang, into a sect of Tibetan lamas seeking to revive Tantric Buddhism.
Maitreya (1978) continues the theme of metamorphosis, this time in the person of Luis Leng, a humble Cuban-Chinese cook, who becomes a reincarnation of Buddha. Through Leng, Sarduy traces the metamorphosis of two hitherto incomparable societies, Tibet at the moment of the Chinese invasion, and Cuba at the moment of revolution. Transgressing genres and genders, reveling in literal and figurative transvestism, these two novels are among the most daring achievements of postmodern Latin American fiction.
Severo Sarduy (1937-1993) was perhaps the strangest and most inventive writer of the Latin American “Boom.” He helped spearhead the Cuban Neobaroque movement, which took a kind of vengeance upon European violence in the Caribbean by recombining it with African and Native American cultural inheritance into a surreal new alchemy of word and image. Voodoo, Buddhism, pop music, drag queens, anonymous sex, syncretic mysticism, and mathematic puzzles are all entangled in the warped geometry of his novels. Sarduy was also a publisher, a radio producer, and a member of the French Tel Quel group which included Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, and François Wahl, Sarduy’s lover until the latter’s death in 1993.