The Magnificent Seven

Table for Two at La Biela: Statues of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares

Table for Two at La Biela: Statues of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares

At Recoleta’s busy La Biela Café, a table is permanently reserved for those two lions of Argentine literature: Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. They naturally belong together, as they were lifelong friends and collaborated together on several books.

In my readings of the literature of Argentina, I have come upon seven writers whose works are equal (when they don’t actually surpass) the best of European and American literature. I will confine my comments only to those works written in the 20th century, as earlier works, such as Hernandez’s Martin Fierro and Guiraldes’s Don Segunda Sombra belong more to the Gaucho myth than to literature.

Here are the seven writers whose works I recommend:

JORGE LUIS BORGES is, to my mind, one of the giants of 20th century literature. Although he never wrote any novels, his poems, short stories, and essays are must reads. Start with his collections Ficciones, Labyrinths, and The Aleph.

ADOLFO BIOY CASARES is not only Borges’s friend and collaborator, but is the author of several novels including The Invention of Morel and The Adventures of a Photographer in La Plata. He was married to

SILVINA OCAMPO. Together, they were known as Los Bioy. Her Kafkaesque short stories are collected in a volume called Thus Were Their Faces. She is the sister of Victoria Ocampo, founder and editor of Sur, a magazine and a noted publishing house.

CÉSAR AIRA is a recent find for me. I have written several blog postings about him and his highly original narrative style (resembling a Roomba vacuum cleaner that always moves forward). I particularly liked The Hare and The Seamstress and the Wind (my favorite novel about Patagonia).

JULIO CORTÁZAR is known primarily for being the author of the short story which Michelangelo Antonioni adapted into his film Blow Up. I think his short stories are his best work.

THOMAS ELOY MARTÍNEZ has written novels about the Peróns. My favorite is about the long journey taken by the body of Evita Perón after her death by Cancer: Santa Evita. Today, Evita’s corpse is finally at rest at Recoleta Cemetery under her maiden name, Duarte.

JUAN JOSÉ SAER writes about El Litoral, the area along the River Paraná centered around Santa Fe. I think he may be up there with Borges and Bioy Casares. Currently, I am reading The Clouds. Another excellent title is The Witness.

If you feel your reading is in a rut, I highly recommend you turn your attention South—way South—and read one of these Argentinean classics.



Serendipity: “Nothing Is Ever Repeated”

Juan José Saer (1937-2005)

Juan José Saer (1937-2005)

This is how I find new authors: Sick with a miserable cold, I go to Yamadaya Ramen in Westwood and while snarfing down a premium shio with extra bamboo shoots, I read the November 20, 2014 edition of The New York Review of Books and find a review by David Gallagher of an Argentinean author I would very much like to read, Juan José Saer. Here he talks about La Grande, Saer’s unfinished novel that has recently been published by Open Letter:

On a long, meditative bus ride from Rosario back to Santa Fe, Tomatis concludes that even the most familiar objects in his house change all the ti9me. “When we return to the kitchen from the dining room, or to the dining room from the kitchen, in the time it takes to find a clean knife in the utensil drawer, everything has changed,” he muses, and in the manner of the Colastiné Indians, he wonders if his house or town will still be there when he gets back. Nula is fascinated with the notion that no two instances are alike, and he obsesses about it on the most unlikely occasions, as when he kisses for the first time a girl called Virginia, with whom he is about to have a one-night stand. In his car, on their way to a motel he reflects that no two kisses are the same. With Virginia by his side he somehow has the time and the inclination to tell himself that

although everything is alike, nothing is ever repeated, and that since the beginning of time, when the great delirium began its expansion, … every event is unique, flaming, unknown, and ephemeral: the individual does not incarnate the species, and the part is not a part of the whole, but only a part, and the whole in turn is always a part; there is no whole; the goldfinch that sings at dawn sings for itself; … and its previous song, which even it does not remember singing, and which seems so much like the one before, if one listened carefully, would clearly be different.