Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only the historical craft of the dance, but for their families and communities.

During the author’s investigation, she is drawn to the uniquely enduring spirit of a competitor named Rodolfo González Alcántara. Her reports combine her awe and fascination for the dance with the raw observation of physical movements and events, making the novel a powerful observation of human willpower and strength. Guerriero’s reporting combined with the prose of a fiction novel creates a story that captivates its reader with ease.

The malambo dancer sacrifices his entire life for the goal of becoming champion. Out of all the observations Guerriero makes as she watches Rodolfo and the other competitors, the factor of spirituality is an apparent major influence over the mental states of competitors. The spiritual element of the malambo alters the entire disposition of the dancer. Many dancers feel allegiance to past champions, and brim with pride at the thought of gracing the same wooden boards of the stage that the greats had danced on. One particular opponent of Rodolfo’s, Sebastián Sayago, even asks “those souls for permission to dance” before he goes on stage. To dance the malambo is to dance, and live, with attitude. Many malambo dancers, like Rodolfo, pray with a bible before making their way onstage. Spirituality is not the only practice which competitors devote themselves to; a competitor must make his whole life a practice of malambo, adopting permanent mannerisms in order to prepare for the biggest moment of his life: the giving of the physical body to the stage.

At three minutes, the malambo is a wall of sound, a jumble of boots, drum, and guitar that picks up speed at an asphyxiating rate. At four minutes, his feet pound the stage with savage fury, the guitar, drum, and boots are a solid mass of blows, and at four minutes fifty seconds, the man lowers his head, raises one leg, and with colossal force, bashes it into the wood, his heart monstrously swollen, with the lucid yet frenzied expression of someone who’s just experienced a revelation.

Guerriero’s language evokes a deep sense of imagery and connection to the movements of the scenes she observes. Through much of her writing, readers are able to feel the actions and emotions of the dancers. The reader is brought along the complicated journey of preparation, fulfillment, and failure of the malambo dancer. Beneath the adopted gaucho persona that the male competitors create, lies a human being stripped of adornments, with simple hopes and dreams of the future.

As the climatic final dance of Rodolfo Gonzaález Alcántara nears, the nervous tension of his preparation permeates through Guerriero’s reporting. At the same time, Guerriero nears a personal understanding of the competitor’s path to the malambo. The path becomes deeply personal, with Guerriero feeling the gravity of Rodolfo’s preparations in physical, spiritual, and mentally taxing ways. How many times can a man go through this? How many times can I go through this? Could this be a story that never ends?

Rodolfo dances his final malambo of the festival, and awaits the results in a palpable state of fear and anxiety. Guerriero’s final reporting puts the reader on the edge of their seat, suspending time through her words of anticipation and discontent. The final result is an emotional burst of feeling that marks the closing of Rodolfo’s endeavors, as well as the climatic finale of Geurriero’s ingenious reporting.

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A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
By Leila Guerriero
Translated by Frances Riddle
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht
128 pages, paperback
ISBN: 9780811226004
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