by Phoebe Adams

by Reinaldo Arenas. Harper & Row, $6.50. Full of flamboyant fantasy and puns that have driven the translator to desperate footnotes, this novel purports to recreate “the Life and Adventures of Friar Servando Teresa de Mier,” who really was a Mexican revolutionary of the early nineteenth century. The Friar would be amazed at the Rabelaisian extravaganza in which he appears, but might well approve of the inventive abuse Mr. Arenas bestows upon Spanish colonial officials, the court of Madrid, Italian clergy, French revolutionists, American slaveholders, and the Buonaparte tribe. On behalf of the idealistic old reformer, Mr. Arenas lambastes every authority in sight, and the result is a steadily surprising and provocative book. The fact that the novel has not appeared in the author’s native Cuba suggests that it contains more provocation than the gringo eye perceives, for it is hard to believe that the Castro regime worries about the reputation of Madame Récamier. Translated by Gordon Brotherston.