Now in paperback, José Manuel Prieto’s Rex is a sexy, zany, and sophisticated literary game rife with allusions to Proust and Borges, set in a world of wealthy Russian expats and mafiosos who have settled in western Europe.
J. is a young Cuban man who, thanks to his knowledge of Russian and Spanish, has become the tutor of the young son of a wealthy Russian couple living in Marbella, in the part of southern Spain that the Russian mafia has turned into its winter quarters. As J. attempts to give the boy a general grade-school education by exclusively reading him Proust, he also becomes the personal secretary of the boy’s father, Vasily, an ex-scientist that J. suspects is on the run from gangsters. Vasily’s wife, Nelly, a seductive woman always draped in mind-boggling quantities of precious stones, believes the only way to evade the gangsters is an extravagant plan linking Vasily to the throne of the czars.
Rex is an unforgettable achievement: an illusory, allusive gem of a novel that confirms José Manuel Prieto as one of the most talented writers of his generation.
A Proust-worshipping narrator falls into the dangerous world of the Russian mob in this novel run amok by the author of Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire. In Spain's fashionable Costa del Sol, the narrator takes on the tutorship of young Petya, the son of wealthy Vasily and Nelly. Petya's education amounts to lessons derived entirely from Proust, considered by his tutor to be the ultimate source for all wisdom. Meanwhile, the tutor is exposed to the staggering wealth and suspicious circumstances of the household: Nelly parades around wearing enormous diamond necklaces, Vasily reels his new employee into his shady dealings, and sinister servant Batyk lurks in the background. Before long, it becomes apparent that Vasily and Nelly are involved in the manufacture and sale of fake jewels and are on the run from the violent Russian gangsters they've swindled. The narrator is a perfect Proustian na f, steeped, as is the book itself, in the rich and allusive depth of world literature and language, but also deeply innocent and foolish. It's painfully intelligent if overwhelming. A cunning Proust scholar could tease a thesis out of this.