by Mario Bellatin
translation by Kurt Hollander
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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. When a mysterious and incurable disease devastates an unnamed city, a lone transvestite hairdresser finds himself in the unlikely position of caregiver. Trading in his barber chairs and hair dryers for cots and a kerosene cooker, the nameless narrator converts his salon into the Terminal, a haven where shunned and afflicted young men gather to spend their final days.
The beauty salon–turned-lazaretto cleverly serves as an architectural vanitas, uniting beautification and decay under the same roof. Bellatín lays bare the capacity of illness to ravage the body and strip the individual of identity: “You might not believe me but I can almost never
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