Cover image for Manuel Puig and the spider woman : his life and fictions
Manuel Puig and the spider woman : his life and fictions
Levine, Suzanne Jill.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000.
Physical Description:
xvi, 448 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
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Format :


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PQ7798.26.U4 Z772 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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San Juan, a noted Philippine Marxist now living in the United States, gives a detailed account of the Philippine situation from many perspectives. The essays deal with new-imperialism, the Muslim community, literature, the New People's Army, women, and Filipinos in the United States. While Marcos is gone, many of the issues San Juan raises still need attention and the Marxist perspective he uses gives a very different insight than has been heard previously. Thus the work merits serious consideration for academic libraries. Library Journal

Crisis in the Philippines is an unparalleled view of the making of a revolution. E. San Juan offers an insider's examination of the unrelenting avalanche of political events, culminated by the summary killing of opposition leader Benigno Aquino. He dramarically illuminates the Filipino people's struggle for self-determination, the actual activities and growth of the New People's Army, and an analysis of the global forces influencing the current crisis. Unprecedented focus is given to the ways in which certain groups within Phillippine society--particularly the feminist movement and the Church--are coalescing with the Left. Poignantly illustrated with photographs of village life, the New People's Army, protest rallies, press and media clippings, this is the first unrestricted story of the Philippine revolution.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

A close correlation often exists between fiction writers' work and their personal lives, but rarely is that correlation as close as it was for Manuel Puig, the late Argentine writer. Puig was the author, most notably, of the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman (1979), which was made into a successful movie and Broadway musical. It was particularly appropriate that Puig's work should find its way to the silver screen since movies were his obsession. Born and raised in a small provincial town in Argentina, Puig connected with the outside world through film. Eventually, though, he sought a wider world, finding it first in Buenos Aires and later abroad. Levine, who translated Puig's novels into English, knew the man personally and brings great psychological depth to her portrait, especially in her treatment of his novels and the role of the cinema in both his life and work. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

The intricate links between politics, movies and life that are at the heart of Manuel Puig's 1976 novel The Kiss of the Spider Woman are also at the center of this engaging and illuminating critical biography of the late Argentinean author. Born to a middle-class family in 1932, Puig became obsessed with movies at an early age. When his plans to become a film director did not materialize, he turned to fiction writing and began to produce novels that were not only influenced by the themes in his favorite Hollywood movies, but examined the myriad ways in which movies affected human lives and culture. Levine, who was a friend of Puig's and worked closely with him on the English translations of his work, does a splendid job of delineating Puig's cultural influences--from novelist Julian Green to Freud and Hitchcock--and his political revulsion against Hitler and Juan Per¢n. She convincingly argues that, as a novelist, Puig was as obsessed with politics as he was with popular culture and the imagination. Levine also astutely addresses Puig's homosexuality and the influence of both North and South American gay male culture on his writing, although she is stronger on detailing his relationship with his family than his intimate relationships. (Readers might turn to Jaime Manrique's 1998 Eminent Maricones for a more complete rendering of this side of Puig's life.) Puig's death in 1990, amid rumors of AIDS, cut short a startling career that Levine vividly brings to life. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

While Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman (adapted into both an Oscar-winning movie and a Tony-winning musical) remains his best known and most popular work, his influence is much more wide ranging. Using the techniques of pop art and colloquial language, he managed to break the stranglehold of the intellectual elite on Latin American letters. Born and raised in a hot, boring provincial town in the middle of the Argentinean pampas, Puig, who died in 1990, found early solace in the films his mother took him to almost every day. They provided a means of escape that had a profound effect on his later work, in terms of both content and style. In this first biography of Puig, his principal English translator, Levine (The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction), offers an intimate portrait of both the man and his work. She succeeds admirably in illuminating the forces that drove himDfrom the personal to the political. For the general American audience, Puig remains an obscure figure, but for those interested in Latin American literature who want to know more about the author of Spider Woman, this biography offers an excellent start. For academic and larger public library collections.DDavid W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This is the book that Puig fans have been waiting for, written in a personal, get-to-the-bottom-of-it style by one of his early supporters and translators in the US. Never a prophet in his own country, Puig traveled early in his adult life to beloved Italy to study filmmaking, thus launching his career as world vagabond and postmodernist innovator. Relying heavily on Puig's correspondence with friends and family (chiefly newsy, dish-and-diss letters to his mother), Levine (Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) follows Puig from London to New York, Mexico City to Paris, Rio to Cuernavaca, reporting the quotidian (lost loves, skinflint ways, a father's ailments) and the academic (the genesis of each of his novels) with equal precision. True to her title, Levine tells an insider's tale of the troubled conversion of Kiss of the Spider Woman into the award-winning film and a live drama performed by several companies, as egos and intentions threatened always to doom the projects. With this volume Levine has capped two careers, her subject's and her own. The reader ends this fond biography marveling at how unbookish and relentlessly campy this seismic force (a 1982 nominee for the Nobel Prize) in contemporary Latin American fiction was, and remembering how much he is missed. All collections. B. L. Lewis; Lyon College



Chapter One green pampas, arid pampas Juan Manuel Puig, named after his paternal grandfather, was born on the pampa at 2:00 a.m. on a hot summer night, December 28, 1932, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The family's one-story house stood on the corner of Moreno and Arenales in a flat dusty town of around 15,000 inhabitants called General Villegas, about halfway between the Andes mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, in the vast province of Buenos Aires. To appear slightly younger in the public eye, Manuel would later claim his year of birth as 1933. He was almost born in 1933, and the birth certificate was signed three days later, on the eve of the new year. Juan Manuel was a healthy round-faced infant with big brown eyes "like grapes," his father's thick black curls, and his mother's fair complexion. Her side of the family was proud of that complexion, the coloring of their northern Italian ancestors, and considered it a mark of class distinction, so valued in Argentine society. In the bureaucratic rhetoric Manuel would someday subvert as a writer, the first declaration of his existence imprinted his gender: "child of the male sex."     María Elena Delledonne and Baldomero Puig, his parents, were proud and relieved. It had been a long and difficult birth; Juan Manuel was their first child. That night, so as not to disturb his exhausted wife and newborn infant, Baldomero slept in the next room with his six-year-old nephew Jorge. When Baldomero saw the dark curly hair of the cherub in his beaming wife's arms, he gave him the nickname normally assigned to Jorges--Coco--as part of his patriarchal heritage. María Elena, or Malena as she was known in General Villegas, was called Malé. The nickname was a common abbreviation, but, considering the bond that would form between mother and son, its suggestion of androgyny (in English) is uncanny. From La Plata, Malé's mother, Annunziata, her sister María Carmen, and María Carmen's son Ernesto had all embarked on the twelve-hour train ride to General Villegas, almost 600 kilometers due west, across endless plains that at night looked like the sea.     In his first and most directly autobiographical novel, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth , Manuel would attempt to recapture his aunt's impression when she first got off the train at Colonel Vallejos, his fictional mask for General Villegas, in that summer of 1932: My first impression was awful, there's not a single tall building. They're always having droughts there, so you don't see many trees either. In the station there are no taxis, they still use the horse and buggy, and the center of town is just two and a half blocks away. You can find a few trees that are hardly growing, but what you don't see at all, anywhere, is real grass. Longing for the fragrance of the linden trees in La Plata, the provincial city where she grew up, his mother would try futilely to make grass and plants grow in the patio where Manuel played "by watering the pots practically twenty times a day."     After life on the plains, Manuel, like Malé, would make it a point to live surrounded by flora; at first this meant plant-filled apartments in big cities; later, in Rio de Janeiro, they found the perfect antidote to the bleak contours of General Villegas, a place very far away from the sea and the mountains and from Buenos Aires. There was no landscape there, everything was flat. Only the sky was very bright and the air very dry. The town was ugly too ... It was like living in exile. Anyone born there who never goes away has no idea what life is or of what there is in the world. That's why, when my mother took me to the cinema for the first time--I was four--I thought that was where life was, it all seemed so real to me. In this absence of landscape, referents like lake or hill were poetry, not real; the term city implied a forbidden faraway place filled with dangers, almost a word one couldn't utter. If you died without ever leaving the town, you would barely know what water was. There was the relentless midday sun, the stars at night, and "wind and dirt blowing all day long." The arid landscape was reality but also a metaphor, the harsh void of the human horizon; there was grass for the cattle; "but for people there is nothing."     Several frontier towns in the region were named after colonels and generals who had been awarded land grants for their campaigns during the nineteenth-century Indian Wars. General Villegas was named after a zealous colonel who had been born in neighboring Uruguay of Canarian origins. A dashing Custer of sorts with a handlebar mustache, he was known as both the Titan and the Bull of the Pampa, and received the rank of general in the 1880s after twenty years of service. He founded Trenque Lauquen as well as Villegas, after leading his gaucho troops to decimate large numbers of Ranquel and Araucana Indians on the plains near the town that honors his name. The Indians of this region had migrated from Chile (according to Caucasian landowners, they invaded the "pampa verde," or fertile green plains); these indigenous peoples fiercely defended what they considered their pampa --a Quechuan word meaning "flatland" or "space." They attacked and ravaged scores of new settlers whose reprisals were no less rabid. The Indians' disastrous history has much in common with the legacy of North America's devastated nomadic tribes, though Caucasian immigrants in South America coupled more readily with indigenous peoples than in the northern hemisphere. The Spaniards had fewer compunctions than the British about miscegenation, and their faith, Catholicism, was always avid for converts. The mestizo offspring of such unions in Argentina, labeled negros , joined the ranks of the country's servant and worker class; they were the cabecitas negras for whom Juan and Evita Perón would symbolize salvation.     In Argentina the upper-class estancieros , or landowners--some British but mostly criollos, descendants of Spaniards who had come to Argentina several generations before--virtually ruled until 1945. While the principal European immigrants were Spanish and Italian, the English had brought the technology that would modernize Argentina and make possible the exportation of its riches. These British expatriates, as well as the Argentine criollos of Spanish ancestry, constituted the highest economic rank in a country where class was determined by the amount of land you owned and how much income you produced. Around 1886, when General Villegas was officially founded, the English began buying up ranches, or estancias --vast parcels of 10,000 to 30,000 acres--which became grazing land for Aberdeen and Shorthorn cattle. Like other frontier towns it provided a support system for the surrounding region's grain, dairy, and livestock industries. By 1895, farmers, merchants, and professionals from Spain and Italy had begun to migrate to towns in the pampa, like General Villegas, to usher in a network of services and small businesses.     A veiled chronicle of General Villegas in soap opera format, Manuel's second novel, Heartbreak Tango , records the declining British presence in the story of solidly middle-class Mabel, who almost marries an English ranch owner. The Englishman is forced by circumstances to file a suit against her father, an auctioneer, for the sale of diseased cattle, thus thwarting her social ascension. Mabel's father's fall from grace reflects what happened to many middlemen during the droughts of the twenties and thirties, which had a direct impact on Manuel's early years: his father, Baldomero, failed at first to rise above his humble station when his youthful attempts in the livestock and dairy business were thwarted by the harsh pampa as well as his older brother's mismanagement.     The landowners remained a unified class through marriage--hence marriages out of their class were frowned upon. The middle and lower-middle class supplied the storekeepers, merchants, tailors, and grocers who ran small businesses and serviced the principal industries: cattle ranching and agriculture. Their ties were looser, and while they formed ethnic social centers such as the Italian Society, the Basque Society, and the Syrian-Lebanese Society, these associations tended to foster formal gatherings rather than a genuine sense of belonging. In the microcosm of Villegas, the landowners were typically in control of the government and the Church, as well as the legal system, medicine, and commerce, professions to which middle- or, more likely, upper-middle-class people could aspire. Aspire is the operative word: just as there was no landscape in the pampa, there was also no past, and no present; in this artificial landfill of immigrants--a mere handful on the endless plain--reality was the future; since there was nothing to see, the perceiver projected a mirage.     The state was also a mirage, an abstraction which Argentines, more individuals than citizens, tended to distrust. Manuel's childhood, in the thirties and forties, was spent in a middle-class ambience caught in the fierce struggle between conservative landowners and populist movements. The years 1945, when General Perón and Evita rose to eminence, and 1946, when the general took over the presidency, marked the beginnings of the proceso , a crisis-ridden process of economic and political democratization. The Peróns presided over what would be the last prosperous years in Argentina: in the thirties Argentina had been the fifth-richest country in the world, with a per capita income equal to that of France. From the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century Argentine aristocrats, as citizens of a polyglot and wealthy nation, were frequent travelers to Europe. The Argentine ranch owners who brought their own milk cows to their hotel in Paris were almost a cliché, like the figure of the rich Brazilian in the musical French Cancan (1955).     "We were middle-class," Manuel's childhood friend Elena Piña, or Elenita, told me with a warm, crinkly smile, and explained, "I was Alicita in the novel," referring to Betrayed by Rita Hayworth . This novel, centered around a little boy in love with the movies, follows Manuel's childhood up until age fifteen and is, for those friends and family members who figured in his early life, a clearly identifiable roman à clef: Juan Manuel Puig, or Coco, becomes the principal character, José Casals, or Toto; his father, Baldo, is Berto; Malé is Mita; cousin Jorge is Hector; Aunt Carmen is Clara; Quica, the maid, is Felisa; and cousin Bebé is Teté. Still vivacious and slanty-eyed in middle age as she was in Manuel's portrait of her as Alicita in Rita Hayworth , Elenita is proud to have been Manuel's friend: Manuel was from an even better class than my family because his mother was a professional and mine was only a housewife, and his father owned a business while mine worked in the bank as a clerk. But, despite our more conservative parents, we shared the same liberal values, in part because we went to Public School No. 1 with poor children who lived in huts on dirt roads, and we felt sorry for them. The girls from these poor families--called "negras" or "criollas"--immediately went to work as maidservants and were as young as Bebé. Bebé, Manuel's pretty half-cousin from his father's side of the family, still an attractive blonde in her mid-sixties, remembers that, at age eleven when she spent a couple of months in Villegas, she and nine-year-old Coco talked constantly about how badly some of these girls were treated by their employers.     Bebé's maternal grandparents were "upper-upper-class," particularly her grandmother, whose family owned two vineyards in Mendoza, and her grandfather, whose ranch "was larger than the whole town of Villegas, 2,000 acres." On her visits to Villegas, Bebé would go horseback riding with Coco, bareback, out onto the pampa, the wind in her hair as the horse broke into a gallop: "I was really rich ... but when Grandfather died, my parents went bankrupt and I got to be very poor. A horrible matter for me; for me money is tied up with emotions, feelings, impotence, a sense of power." Bebé's reversal of fortune provided Coco, keenly aware of his parents' uphill battle for class status, with yet another early realization about the power of money. Associated with class and money worries, Bebé would also be an unconscious rival for Coco in his struggles for sexual identity. Parrying with Teté (Bebé) for making him feel ashamed about being a sissy, Toto tauntingly repeats to her what he had heard among the grown-ups: "Your grandfather didn't want your mom to marry your dad, because he was poor."     Prior to Bebé's family crisis, however, Manuel dated the awakening of his class consciousness to when he realized the maid couldn't go with him and his mother to the movies. The movies were the only escape from that dusty, dreary place, and Quica couldn't share this escape. Simple, earthy Quica was four-year-old Coco's sole companion when his mother went off to work in the morning, the only person at home whom he could talk to during those long hours, or at siesta time when mother and father were in bed. Quica listened to Coco's movie chatter but could not contribute much more than "How nice," and, besides, she had to do her housework. The good-natured young servant was treated as an equal, everybody in the house ate together, and there was no distance. But, Manuel recalled, I always thought it was unfair that she couldn't go with us to the movies in the afternoon; Quica had to work in the kitchen. Everybody had to work. Also Dad and his workers. That marginalization [of the worker] didn't hurt until I was old enough to transform it into guilt ... I'm persecuted by the idea of privilege or escapism, the feeling that I'm taking time away from reality. Compared with Quica and his father's employees, Coco knew he was a relatively privileged member of local society, but at the same time he felt like an outsider, estranged from the workaday existence of "normal" boys and men. This sense of culpability or difference may have led him, in part, to redeem his escape into the movies by turning this dalliance into his life's work.     If Baldo's principal struggle during Coco's childhood was to achieve solid middle-class status, one could see why Coco might be made to feel guilty about frivolous moviegoing. In contrast to his father's austerity and the stinginess of other characters populating the small town of his memory, Manuel portrays Mita (Malé) in an early draft of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth as an indulgent, generous spender: "Mita's the one who spends on what she shouldn't, particularly the daily meals, which were lavish, since they were eaten up, and nothing was left to show for it!" Malé was also a teller of elaborate tales. Her expansive, chatty nature played a crucial role in the transformation of Coco, dreamer and movie lover, into Manuel Puig, novelist. By age twenty Manuel, like most homosexuals of his culture and generation, was living a double life to maintain his social and family relations. The way he handled this was to "embroider," to disguise and transform facts into fiction.     Manuel's material life as an adult would oscillate between the yin and yang of parental economy acquired early on: a penny-pincher in everyday life, he indulged in the luxuries of travel, entertainment, cultural life, and, last but not least, making art. male and the delledonnes In that town what alternatives did I have? It was really a harsh place, like the Far West, on the dry pampa, where it never rains. An almost desert-like plain where the only thing that grows is grass--and it's not even green--that's good only for the cattle, which is why the region survives and is inhabited. Movie images and the words in books had to compensate for all that was missing in Villegas: whose message was this? It was Malé who took Coco every evening to the movies even before he began going to school, so that she could escape for a few moments from a town where she couldn't smell the orange blossoms and linden flowers of La Plata. Villegas was so dull that the local newspaper published a column called Travelers, announcing the travel plans of its inhabitants, even if this meant only a day trip to the next town! For both mother and son, General Villegas was a bad B movie that had to end.     The movies were where they felt most at home; where, indeed, Manuel wanted to live. The notion of his place of origin as a place of exile might seem surprising, but it is native to Argentina. Like many Argentines confronted by their geographic isolation, Manuel became a relentless traveler as an adult, though he would never be able to shed completely the condition of exile. For a while the new home would be paradise, but sooner or later, paradise would crumble. "He suffered the cities he settled in as one who suffers the setbacks of a house, on a private scale, the same way a sick person reduces the horrors of the world to the portable, idiosyncratic format that the symptoms of his own illness take on." Exile and home would always be two sides of the same coin for him.     The saying goes: The Mexicans descended from the Aztecs, the Peruvians from the Incas, and the Argentines from the boat. At the turn of the last century, over 70 percent of Argentina's population was composed of first-generation immigrants, including "Russians" and "Turks" but mostly Spaniards and Italians. Doña Malé Delledonne's family came from the fertile Po valley in northern Italy. Her father, Ernesto Delledonne--the surname means "of women"--was a country boy from a farm near Busseto, Verdi's birthplace. Don Ernesto and his fiancée, Annunziata Marenghi, had married in her hometown, Piacenza, near Cremona, the city famous for its Stradivarius violins. They remained childless for several years, which had everyone concerned. But, as soon as they disembarked in Buenos Aires in the late 1890s and (with the help of cousin Giorgio who had preceded them) settled in La Plata, thirty miles south of Buenos Aires, the Delledonne couple lived up to the family name. Annunziata gave birth, in quick succession, to five daughters. A patriotic deed, because emigrants were encouraged to populate sparse La Plata, the new capital of the province of Buenos Aires.     A big city in comparison to Villegas, though only a suburban town compared to Buenos Aires, La Plata was the only planned urban center in the country. Manuel and Malé loved visiting La Plata: for both it was an oasis. Symmetrical streets crisscrossed diagonales --broad angling avenues--punctuated deliberately with squares, parks, and stately monuments. There were theaters, several movie houses, and an "acclimatized" pool in the neighborhood gymnasium where Malé did her daily laps while Coco took swimming lessons. Like his mother, his Delledonne aunts and cousins were more genteel than the Puigs, more modern and less machista . Manuel would always feel more affection for his mother's family than for his father's.     The sheltering bosom of the Delledonne home in La Plata would be the setting for the opening scene of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth . Manuel, in the first draft of his novel, let Aunt Clara (Carmen) tell the family history, from the point of view of the Italian side and its critique of the Spanish Puigs; she explains Toto's "strangeness" as coming from the difficult Casals family (the Catalan name he substitutes for Puig). While his father saves every penny, struggling to build up capital, his mother, serving steaks and whiskey, appears more generous. The gallegos (Spaniards) are more brutish, rowdier, unpredictable; the Italians more easygoing and trustworthy.     In an early draft Manuel sketched typical Argentine prejudices among different national minority groups, but in the final version he toned down the overt rivalry between Spaniards and Italians, turning petty ethnic frictions into a more personal opposition between mother and father. Life's experiences might modulate his feelings about Spaniards and Italians, but he would remain more allied to his maternal origins. He makes this preference clear in the first draft of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth , in which Aunt Clara tells a kind of fragmented family history; but discretion as well as economy shaped the novel's final version, in which most of his family history was excised, and only the essential--such as Toto's "movie-crazy" passion and devotion to the arts under the influence of the Italian matriarchs--was left intact.     Grandpa Ernesto, an illiterate greengrocer, was a humble, simple man. Ernesto's grocery adjoined the house, and chickens in the patio provided eggs for the family as well as for customers. Young Ernesto, his grandson, watched them grow up from little chicks popping out of their shells; they would become his friends and eventually, to his horror, Sunday stew. That is how simple people lived then, cousin Ernesto said to me when we met in November 1995; Grandpa Ernesto's goal was to provide for his family. But he was more gregarious than industrious, and spent hours in the café chatting with friends, which exasperated Annunziata.     While they were "more like Papa's family, from Busseto," Aunt Clara's monologue revealed that "Mama" (Manuel's grandmother, Annunziata), who was from a more cosmopolitan background, was the preferred parent, the one Mita (Malé) felt closest to. "Mita knew how to give herself time for everything, like Mama. Because Mama always has her clothes ready to go out ... mostly to the movies." Malé had Annunziata's drive and intelligence, and shared her passion for theater and her daydreams about movie actors: "Who knows who [Annunziata] would have liked as a husband. She never said anything ... but she was crazy about [the actor] López Lagar." A dark virile gallego whose heavy-lidded, almond-shaped eyes made hearts throb in the thirties, Lagar had fled Franco's Spain with Margarita Xirgu, remaining in Argentina to become a matinee idol.     Annunziata missed her family but, like most Italian immigrants, was not sentimental about returning to the old country: having to make your own bread every day was not romantic. Sentimentality had no place in the harsh origins of these immigrants, but deep down everyone believed in the redeeming value of sentiment. In the first draft of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth , Aunt Clara responds defensively to her sister Mita's friend Sophia, who criticizes Victor Hugo for being too sappy: "I think a romantic person, who has feelings, can't be bad, because he knows what it means to suffer and will try not to make others suffer." Clara reminisces about how she met her husband but then contrasts these feelings with her immigrant mother's experience: A woman like Mama had no time to be romantic. The work in Italy was hard, everything they had in the house they had to make, you couldn't just buy bread, you had to make it ... I'd like to know how that was, but now we're not educated to live that way, though I do my sewing very well: what a pity there's no time to make a pretty tablecloth. This mention of embroidery, a daily chore that had some aesthetic function in the limited lives of these homebound women, would give Manuel Betrayed by Rita Hayworth 's deliberately plain first sentence: "A brown crossstitch over beige linen ..." The first dialogue, a conversation among practical-minded family members who have no choice but to be down-to-earth, establishes the book's antiromantic yet nostalgic feel--nostalgia for the old country, Mita's nostalgia for the family home in La Plata, and the family's nostalgia for Mita far away in Villegas.     The strong-willed Annunziata Marenghi Delledonne, uneducated like her husband, pushed him to work so hard in this fresh city of opportunity that Grandpa Ernesto was considered a saint--a euphemism for henpecked husband. He was to outlive Annunziata, but not before she embarked her girls on their respective life voyages. To ascend socially, to compete successfully with Spaniards, Eastern Europeans, and native Argentinians, the descendants of these Italian immigrants needed to leave behind the past. For her children to leave behind peasant origins and enter the middle class, education was essential. Public education in Argentina, as in the United States during the same period, promoted assimilation: immigrants had to adapt to their new country, which, after all, had adopted them.     Aida was the eldest daughter, called Pety, short for Petisa (Shorty), and known for being a "bit absent-minded." Next came Emma: she and middle daughter Malé were tall and blond, the ones who inherited Annunziata's ambitious nature, shrewd intelligence, enthusiasm for the arts. Emma, sketchily represented by Adela in chapter 1 of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth , which takes place in the family home in La Plata, used her eyes too much, according to Grandmother. This was a typical complaint mothers made about studious daughters who ruin their looks with too much reading in bad light. If on the one hand daughters had to be educated, they also had to become desirable wives.     After Malé came María Carmen, nicknamed Chiquita--or Little One, a common diminutive for girls in patriarchal Argentina--followed by Annunziata's youngest daughter Regina (Reya). Aside from Manuel, Malé's constant companion on many trips would be María Carmen, the mother of Manuel's cousin Ernesto, with whom he played as a small child. The last of Malé's sisters to die, she was the aunt whose voice initiated Manuel Puig's first novel and whose death inspired his last, Tropical Night Falling . (Continues...) Copyright © 2000 Suzanne Jill Levine. All rights reserved.