Picks and Pans Review: Face

updated 04/01/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/01/1985 01:00AM

by Cecile Pineda

The protagonist of this strong first novel, Helio Cara, is a barber in a Brazilian city. When he falls down a cliff and shatters his face, he survives but has no money for plastic surgery. After three months of healing he tries to return to his world, hideously disfigured. He wears a white handkerchief, held in place by his hat, to cover his face at all times. No one will sit in his chair at the barber shop, and so he is fired. At night he roams the garbage heaps to get food. He stands in lines at clinics, fills out papers, and just when a plastic surgeon agrees to help him, Cara's shack is burned down and he must go to his mother's village in the remote jungle. Pineda writes, "She is a long time dying, as if before she could break the habit of her living, she must shake her life free of all its grief, must pour it out in the soft moans of an ancient child." When his mother dies, Cara decides that he will reconstruct a new face for himself. Pineda is a native of San Francisco, where she had her own theatrical repertory company. Face was triggered by a real incident, and that makes the author's imaginative scope seem all the more remarkable. Her haunted story, with its bold symbolism, will remind readers of Camus and Kafka. But unlike, say, Camus' The Stranger, in which fate also deals the hero catastrophic blows, Face is surprisingly upbeat in its suggestion that man is indomitable. (Viking, $14.95)

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