City Lights's Reviews > Beauty Salon

Beauty Salon by Mario Bellatin
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Jul 12, 10

Read in April, 2010

"In the Terminal, like the flashy fish that inhabit the aquariums, and the terminally ill that die around them, everything floats. There are no turns of the heart, or sudden twists. We drift through the inevitable. If poetry is making nothing happen, as Auden once said, than this novel shows that prose can as well." —Jesse Tangen-Mills, Bookslut

"Despite its brevity, Beauty Salon stands to linger in the aquariums of our memories, at times, like the monstrous axolotls, revealing the ugliness of the world, at others, like the mystic golden carp, providing hope for a better tomorrow." —Eduardo Febles, The Gay and Lesbian Review

"That questions about gender can be gorgeously rendered in such a short work so obsessed with death speaks of Bellatin's mastery of the form, and we’re left to grumble about the paltry amount of fiction translated into English (translations of three of his stories were included in Chinese Checkers, released by Ravenna Press only in 2007). Thanks to his 'unusual' personality, though, Bellatin was featured in the New York Times. Score one for non-English-language lit?" —Alicia Kennedy


"Although pithy in size (a mere 63 pages), its subject matter is decidedly not: a mysterious and deadly plague has descended upon an unnamed city, whose infected inhabitants come to the Terminal, a former beauty salon, 'where people who have nowhere to die end their days'. . . Originally published in 1999 but recently translated from the Spanish by Kurt Hollander, I feel this disquieting novella is destined to haunt—and ultimately inspire—any reader who dares allow himself to reflect upon its deeper lessons." —Adrienne Biggs

"The bleak, rapid-fire sentences of Mexican writer Mario Bellatín's Beauty Salon give the spare novella an airless hyper-immediacy—and a terrible, unstoppable momentum. . . Bellatín’s tale exists outside an ethical conversation. Rather than pose moralistic questions, he sets about elegantly illuminating the book’s epigraph, a quotation from the equally efficient Yasunari Kawabata: 'Anything inhumane becomes human over time.' In a few haunting pages, Bellatín makes this piercingly clear." —Megan Doll

Publisher's Weekly

"An extremely slender, sad tale by Bellatín recounts a gay man's reflections on the waning days of sexual excess and the specter of death wrought by AIDS, though here AIDS is a mysterious, nameless plague. Formerly a stylist in a beauty salon in an unnamed city, the narrator, a transvestite, has now transformed the salon into the Terminal, 'where people who have nowhere to die end their days.' The Terminal has become a kind of hospice for dying gay men, the hair dryers and armchairs sold to buy cots and a cooker, the mirrors removed to avoid 'multiplying the suffering.' The manager keeps exotic fish in aquariums, which he keenly observes as an allegory of what's happening in the larger world: as symptoms of the sickness become apparent on his own body, he notices a fungus growing on the angelfish that fatally infects the others. The narrator's brutal reasoning renders Bellatín's tale an unflinching allegory on death."

Three Percent

"Beauty Salon succeeds in suggesting whole worlds just outside of its pages. The effect is distinctly cinematic: a montage of images which catch the reader's eye and expand the reality of this anonymous man, anonymous disease, and anonymous city far beyond the story itself."

—Larissa Kyzer


"In his first work translated into English, Mexican short-novelist Bellatin presents the testimony of a hairstylist who turns his successful big-city salon into a refuge for men dying of an incurable disease. . . . Including a few details that may linger uncomfortably with the reader for a long time, this is contemporary naturalism as disturbing as it gets." -- Ray Olson

Conversational Reading

"Reading Beauty Salon one is very much in the presence of a man who knows what he believes and tries to consciously put that forth to the reader, and trying to work out just what this is—and why he believe this—constitutes the book's primary interest . . . Beauty Salon is, like the fish tanks described within, a small, closed environment, although the paths that can be taken through it are many." —Scott Esposito

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JorgeCino Why is this rated with one star if the reviews compiled are all positive?

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