Beauty Salon

Beauty Salon
Translated by Kurt Hollander

Press Reviews


"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

- Jesse Tangen-Mills

Aug 9, 2009

"The first of his works to be translated, a collection of three novellas called 'Chinese Checkers,' appeared only within the last couple of years, and 'Beauty Salon,' a novella from 1994, is to be published by City Lights Books this week. Like much of Mr. Bellatin's work, 'Beauty Salon' is pithy, allegorical and profoundly disturbing, with a plot that evokes The Plague by Camus or Blindness by José Saramago. In an unnamed city that is suffering from an unnamed epidemic a transvestite hairdresser has turned his shop into a hospice for men dying of the disease, caring for them as indifferently as he tends to the fish he houses in aquariums that are his sole diversion. Many of Mr. Bellatin's novels, 'Beauty Salon' and 'Shiki Nagaoka' included, focus on characters whose bodies are deformed, disfigured or diseased or whose sexual identity is uncertain or fluid. That is one reason Ms. Palaversich, who wrote the introduction to a recent Spanish-language compendium of Mr. Bellatin's work, compares him not to other Latin American writers but to filmmakers like David Cronenberg and David Lynch and painters like Frida Kahlo." —Larry Rohter

- Larry Rohter, The New York Times


"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

Words Without Borders

"[This] strange and beautiful parable about human bodies living and dying on the fringes of society . . . prompts us to consider our collective attitudes toward, and treatment of, the human body — in illness, in death, in poverty, and in opposition to dominant conceptions of sexual behavior. . . . [Bellatin provides] a model for dying, and for living; for treating the abject body with honesty and respect, despite its difference and decay — perhaps because of it."
—Maggie Riggs

The Gay and Lesbian Review

"In a sparse style, the short novel Beauty Salon . . . relates the story of a mysterious illness that plagues an unidentified city. . . . The seemingly simple tale offers a complex network of motifs, symbols and paradoxes. The aquariums that adorn the beauty salon, for instance, become the barometer of the advancing plague: like the 'strong young men who had once been beauty queens and then disappear with their bodies destroyed,' the beautiful fish die in the aquariums and are flushed down the toilet. Similarly, once he contracts the plague, the narrator asserts: 'I feel like a fish covered in fungus from whom even its natural predators will flee.' . . . 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

Alicia Kennedy

"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


"Bellatin's fiction is very fresh and invigorating ... With his pared down style and conscious experimentation in prose, Bellatin shows an affinity to the Nouveau Roman and its focus on objects rather than the traditional elements of the novel. Bellatin seeks to portray fragments of experience rather than a coherent world. Characters aren't defined by descriptions, but remain only as emotionally-charged glimmers in the narrator’s memory. ... The effect of this is disconcerting and strangely moving ... "
—Eric Karl Anderson

Shelf Awareness

"Imagine a salon that becomes 'the Terminal,' a surreal yet all too real refuge for strangers 'who have nowhere else to die.' I'm still haunted by the narrative voice and the aquariums. (You'll have to read it to find out about them.)"
— Robert Gray

Literal. Latin American Voices

"Mexican writer Mario Bellatin has created a rare literary feat: in just 63 pages he has produced a novella that sparkles with beauty and clarity as it delves into one of the most horrifying and shunned diseases of our times—AIDS. . . . Written in simple sentences that flow offortlessly without the interruptions of chapters, Beauty Salon is a lyrical piece about how a disease is turning its victims into pariahs, and as a result has made our society less human. Mario Bellatin had the courage to write about this taboo in a country that is known for its homophobia, and in return he was rewarded with a little book of deep beauty." —David D. Medina


"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

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


"Some authors take time creating an overall feel for their book. But when you're writing a novella of well under 100 pages, you don't have much time to set the tone. Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin doesn’t waste any establishing the tenor of Beauty Salon. He does it with the first two sentences: 'A few years ago my interest in aquariums led me to decorate by beauty salon with colored fish. Now that the salon has become the Terminal, where people who have nowhere to die end their days, it’s been very hard on me to see the fish disappear.' . . . Bellatin’s description of the world is blunt and brutal."

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

The Rumpus

"Beauty Salon, by Mexican novelist Mario Bellatín, originally published in Spanish in 1999 and now out from City Lights Books in a translation by Kurt Hollander, is short. A mere 63 pages, which is good, because its density requires multiple re-reads—and in that curious inversion of fiction, the less the author says, the more expansive the story's meaning becomes. . . His book itself is a place—contained and at times claustrophobic—like the beauty salon refuge, like the suffocating aquariums. And in it, despite its spare style, lives a dense story that leaves a reader unsettled, and unsettlingly intrigued."—Shawna Yang Ryan

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."