lunes, 17 de agosto de 2015

El Escritor y sus Fantasmas - Ernesto Sábato


A writer —and, I believe, generally all persons— must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
- Jorge Luis Borges, Twenty Conversations with Borges, Including a Selection of Poems: Interviews by Roberto Alifano, 1981–1983

All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

- The Beatles, Eleanor Rigby

Some people have said that you cannot feel happiness and be a writer at the same time. That only the feeling of excruciating sadness or gentle yet inexorable melancholy can give you the instruments to write something beyond the ordinary, be it prose or poetry. Apparently, Lord Byron went a little further and added love to the recipe. According to Thomas Medwin in his Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron (1823), “For a man to become a poet (witness Petrarch and Dante), he must be in love, or miserable.” It says nothing about the nature of that love. For you could be in a one-sided love. Love and misery combined... how the human soul is able to endure that, I will never know. But it does.
Anyway, from Byron's approach, love can make you happy. So it is no longer that if you are happy, you only can write self-help books and stuff like that. You could be able to write the literary piece of your life. Or not. Bliss and desolation cannot grant the gift of writing. I know.
However, regarding this book and from the point of view I chose to analyze it, it seems that there is something more profound about what we call melancholic or pessimistic literature. Paraphrasing Tolstoy, maybe it is because happy people are alike and each unhappy people are unhappy in their own way. And our restless minds want to know a little more about the latter.
In this essay, Ernesto Sábato dealt with many ghosts that writers encounter in their lives. He also described many aspects of the creative process, its nature, its sources, themes, philosophical approaches to explain all the aforementioned, literary movements, the existence of a national literature, perspectives on aesthetics and human condition, the matter of originality, the fact that he looks at writing more like a doom rather than an occupation, the eternal debate between subjectivity and objectivity and other movements, comments on several renowned writers... A lot.
There are many reasons that lead a person to write, which diversity does not allow me to mention. However, we can agree that certain emotions prompt us to be in the mood for writing. Later, whether it is good or bad writing, that is another matter.
The sentiment that can move mountains of paper is the conflicted relationship when solitude becomes loneliness. Many times it is wanted, other times is a cause of disquiet. And then you are satisfied because you are calmly alone, and then you are desperate because you feel your humanity fading. And so on. And so on.
Isolation (a writer is well-accustomed to dealing with that) is one of the more powerful sources of literary works in the planet. With surgical precision, it cuts and finds its place in our minds, pinching memories of more accumulated isolation, which leads to the bleak disposition that shapes the day.
Why does it happen?
Why are we like that?
Where do lonely people come from?
Where do we belong?
How can we fix that?
No human being is an island. By writing, we express emotions and empty the mind to go on. But some things cannot be fix easily. Some, cannot be fixed at all.

Weird. Some of Sábato's essays left me pondering and the music I was listening to at that moment, did the rest. The reasons as to why a person would grab a pen or a computer and starts writing are as varied as human reactions. One? The intricate path made of insecurities and tragedy that can take the writer to the creation of a novel, thus, purging himself, at least for a moment.
One of the first things I underlined in this book are the following two sentences.
El principal problema del escritor
Tal vez sea el de evitar la tentacion de juntar palabras para hacer una obra. Dijo Claudel que no fueron las palabras las que hicieron La Odisea, sino al revés. (16)

It might be something like:
The main problem for the writer
Perhaps, to avoid the temptation of putting words together to make a literary work. Claudel said that it wasn't the words the ones that created The Odyssey, but the other way around.

A poetic way of portraying the absence of pressure. The lack of impatience for putting word after word to create something meaningful.
There are many more passages I would like to quote so you can appreciate the exquisite language he uses while conveying his ideas, giving the illusion of an effortless literary process. However, I cannot translate all that. I already heard the author's giggle at my previous naive attempt of translation. So, I will simply leave two more passages in here, asking for forgiveness to my English speaking friends.

De la cosa a la angustia
Lanzado ciegamente a la conquista del mundo externo, preocupado por el solo manejo de las cosas, el hombre terminó por cosificarse él mismo, cayendo al mundo bruto en que rige el ciego determinismo. Empujado por los objetos, títere de la misma circunstancia que había contribuido a crear, el hombre dejó de ser libre, y se volvió tan anónimo e impersonal como sus instrumentos. Ya no vive en el tiempo originario del ser sino en el tiempo de sus propios relojes. Es la caída del ser en el mundo, es la exteriorización y la banalización de su existencia. Ha ganado el mundo pero se ha perdido así mismo.
Hasta que la angustia lo despierta, aunque lo despierte a un universo de pesadilla. Tambaleante y ansioso busca nuevamente el camino de sí mismo, en medio de las tinieblas. Algo le susurra que a pesar de todo es libre o puede serlo, que de cualquier modo él no es equiparable a un engranaje. Y hasta el hecho de descubrirse mortal, la angustiosa convicción de comprender su finitud también de algún modo es reconfortante, porque al fin de cuentas le prueba que es algo distinto a aquel engranaje indiferente y neutro: le demuestra que es un ser humano. Nada más pero nada menos que un hombre. (89)

Tristeza, resentimiento y literatura
Por otra parte, la autenticidad está probada por el hecho de que nuestra mejor literatura es triste, melancólica o pesimista: desde Hernández hasta Borges y Marechal, pasando por Payró,
Lynch, Güiraldes y Arlt. Cada vez que somos profundos, expresamos esa tonalidad de sentimientos. Cada vez que, forzados por teorías o recriminaciones, intentamos ser alegres ofrecemos en nuestros libros un espectáculo tan torpe y apócrifo como cuando un argentino intenta divertirse en una boîte. Como los rusos del siglo pasado, empieza riendo y tomando, y termina llorando y tomando; cuando no concluye rompiendo todo lo que tiene a mano. (136)

All the lonely people, members of an atomized society, belong to the world. Yes. Citizens of the world perhaps developing pulsing creativity trying to find a way of expression. Let it be a resource.
Literature is always an option.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

sábado, 15 de agosto de 2015

El Relato Peronista - Silvia Mercado


This book starts with a dreadful concept that haunts many of us: what if they lied to us? What if everything you thought that was true, ended up being an elaborate lie supported by politics and their powerful media? What if your history wasn't yours? The history that makes you who you are. Your values, your ideas, your individuality. Your identity. Your sense of belonging.

¿Y si la historia nunca fue como nos la contaron?
What if history wasn't like they told us?

Jorge Lanata, journalist.

A bitter pill to swallow, let me tell you.
However, this investigation by journalist Silvia Mercado aims to demolish all the Argentine historical myths, unveiling the only thing we should always search for: the truth. Facts. The reality that is far away from points of view, wishes, convenient inclinations, fanaticism. That ugly truth that threatens your sense of security and faith in everything you thought was right. Easier said than done. That is why this is not a book for everyone. I would recommend it only to those who are willing to put the official story and prejudices aside and have an honest desire of knowing the truth, even though if there is a possibility that it might hurt you and your surroundings. Someone blinded by that fervent adoration for a human being whose job is to be a politician (things I will never understand) probably will not find it useful and will run to read La Razón de mi Vida while holding a paper bag and hyperventilating because his safe way of understanding politics, his safe way of living, actually, has been threatened.

The book. In terms of structure and order, the book is flawless. You even have an index of names at the end of it, so you have easy access to any subject. In terms of writing, it is clear and straightforward. The foundation of a serious investigation is its sources. So, you will also find a list of reliable sources to back up the author's statements. It is a well documented recap about the face of Peronism that many patriots refuse to acknowledge. Because that is the thing with the ruling party of the last years: if you are not a Peronist, you are not Argentine.
...era un enemigo de la Patria y no tenía derecho a nada.
...an enemy of our homeland and had right to nothing. (229)

In 1946, Juan Domingo Perón, a military officer, became president. He was re-elected in 1952. But his origins were not so democratic. He was involved in the 1943 Argentine coup d'état that the United Officers' Group (GOU) made possible, and was the Vice President of the de facto government from 1944 to 1945.
During Perón's administration, if you were not a Peronist (political movement based on his persona), you were persecuted, tortured and, according to the case, killed. Yes, killed. And yes, it was a democratic government.


Now, times have changed a little, so you may face endless discussions with fanatics (life is too short for that) but, under the current Kirchnerist regime—that finds its roots in the Justicialist Party founded by Perón—you may also face the removal of the government social help if you have, trouble at work and, if you are a renowned person, the persecution through official media or even the collecting agency. That is what happens when presidents become idols and you cannot question those who know what you want and need. The long tradition of personalizing power. They know best, capisce?

Methods have changed, but the division remains. The crack. The social rift. The impossibility of accepting that the person standing in front of you does not have to think the same way as you do. A basic fundament of a democratic society. And somehow, this country has usually had a lot of trouble grasping that concept. Predictable consequences for a nation that has been a hostage of populism for decades. Demagoguery, social assistance from the State instead of promoting the dignity that entails working, indoctrination, the elimination of opposition, authority over media to achieve a formidable propaganda system, a foreign enemy that wants to control us...
Despite some circumstances that mitigate the impact, some things are too common nowadays. There are many similarities that you cannot express without being called "gorila", the stigmatizing word that the unpatriotic receive.
The little we have learned after so many years. It is certainly frightening.

In this work, there are some notions concerning the context of those times that are only mentioned by the writer but not explained with details and, sometimes, not explained at all. It is understandable, since if she did, there wouldn't be enough trees to make the required amount of paper to describe all that. Plus, as a reader, I am grateful because that allowed me to do my research. There were some things that I did not remember from my History lessons, so it was beneficial for me. And many that I did not know. One becomes a part of the process, in some way.

The first chapter is called “Perón and the Dictatorship of 1943”. Basically, it is about how Perón started to put his ideas in motion in order to achieve his main goal all along: power. The presidency. That chapter portrays Perón as an unapologetic enthusiast of fascism (he brought ideas from Italy to execute in here and, a detail: Argentina, under Perón's inexorable influence, did not declare war to the Axis until they were almost defeated, worrying the whole region) willing to do what it took to fulfill his desires. The following chapters reflect precisely that. The way he used the flag of syndicalism simply to gain power:
Lo que Perón le dio a los sindicatos fue un rápido ascenso al poder, a cambio de usarlos como herramienta política personal.
What Perón gave to the unions were a fast way to power, in exchange of using them as his own political instrument. (43)

As you read, you will also find out about the political repression suffered by students that went to the streets to manifest themselves against National Socialism, something that depicts a clear inclination of the government towards that ideology. Furthermore, Mercado wrote about the outstanding creative process of the well-known “17 de Octubre”, a mass mobilization supporting Perón that did not happened exactly the way his people retell it. Also his relationship with Eva, her foundation, the arbitrary use of public money and the assistance to only those who showed support to the leader. And in many chapters, the author explains the truth about the human rights policy of the two Peronist governments, from 1946 to 1955:
- persecution, prison, torture and elimination of everything that opposed the leader (politics, artists, workers; anyone);
- censorship; control of the media to silence every possible scream (foreign newspapers were the key to reach to that conclusion).
—Pero, general, no puede decirme a mí que lo de las torturas se trata de una infamia.
—¿De dónde saca que no lo es?
—Porque a mí me torturaron, general.

—But, General, you cannot tell me that tortures are vicious lies.
—Where do you get the idea that they are not just that?
—Because I was tortured, General.
(Dialogue between Perón and Félix Luna, historian. 213)

Let us not forget that we are talking about a democratic government. Okay, shady elections but elections nonetheless. And I know that a somewhat manipulated election does not represent democracy at its finest. But... elections. And now I dare you to count how many times I wrote “elections” just to show you my point.
In any case, in a perfect-sunny-puppy-make-believe world, assuming that those elections were fair, the following policies of that administration violated basic principles of what democracy was and is supposed to be, anyway. Just like the aforementioned situations.

So, here we are. I must admit that I used to love the romantic idea of kingdoms. I became quite interested in English history when I was a teenager. The idea of distant realms, their laws, their customs, their battles, their views on religions, their caprices that created new laws and religions, the intrigue, their conspiracies, even the clothing... Yes, I was a nerd. Yes, I still am.
Argentine history lacked all that... excitement (yes, I was also a moron). During my youthful years, I used to yawn at school, whenever we had to study our history, our presidents, their periods, their governments, etc. Even though I always loved history, I could never enjoyed studying our own. I don't think I should blame it only on my perception of an apparently boring past. I am not sure... but I think the somewhat dull teachers' approach was a contributory factor. And no, I am not justifying myself. I was not Pink putting bricks on the wall—not because of studying, anyway. I am just saying...

Anyway, it is never too late to rethink our behaviors, our habits, our perspectives. Books tend to help us on that particular aspect. For some people, ignorance is “bliss”, but it also constitutes a state of dangerous blindness. Something that will certainly lead to blatant manipulation. That is why education must be the fundamental base of a country and, in countries ruled by populism, that cannot happen. Their strength lies in ignorance. Only knowledge can create a free mind. Only knowledge can set you free from political manipulation.


I have to say that El Relato Peronista not only allowed me to bring down some very strong preconceptions and myths that many people defend with their soul and mental health, it also helped me to rekindle my relationship with my history. The past of my own country. That fact embodies the most efficient way—if not the only way—to avoid the repetition of mistakes. That concept has been conveyed by many historical characters, such as George Santayana, inspired by Cicero's idea that history is life's teacher:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Aquellos que no pueden recordar su pasado están condenados a repetirlo.

* Photo credit: Juan Domingo Perón via Infobae.
Imagen del libro Evita, de Graciela Albornoz de Videla. Editorial Luis Lasserre SRL / via Historia del Peronismo.
The kids are well dressed. 
The Eva Perón Foundation gives clothes to those in need.
Mom and Dad love us. Perón and Evita love us.

Suicidado: El Asesinato del Fiscal Alberto Nisman - G. M. Bracesco


- Vos sabés que en política pasa de todo.
You know that, in politics, anything can happen. 

- La Justicia no podrá devolverle la vida al Fiscal Alberto Nisman. Pero podrá devolvernos la dignidad a todos los argentinos si se atreve, como él se atrevió, a ir en busca de la verdad.
Justice can't bring prosecutor Alberto Nisman back to life. But it can bring back dignity to all Argentines if it dares, like he did, to go in search of the truth.
(234, Santiago Kovadloff's speech at Nisman's funeral)

January. Monday. Around 7 a.m. I woke up and went to brush my teeth. That is not the perfect line to start a review. I know, nothing poetic about picturing people brushing their teeth. But that is how everything started for me. When I got out of the bathroom, my mother was already up. She always tries to be up to say “take care, have a good day at work” (like that ever happens, but it is nice to have someone to tell you those things, anyway). I still don't know if I was suppose to go to work that day, because I remember I stayed all morning watching the news. And now I see an image I tweeted that Monday at 8.43 a.m. So, no, I did not go to work. And if my previous boss is reading this, now he knows the truth. The most relevant homicide in Argentina's recent criminal history was there. I had to know. I was not going anywhere.

So, like I said, I went back to my room and watched the news on my computer. I don't have a t.v. in my room–good habit–, but I can't go out before checking the news, the weather and other trivia. However, there was nothing of trivia in the news I was about to watch.
Argentine federal prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in his apartment. I could not believe it. I remained in silence for a couple of minutes. Stunned. A mix of confusion and powerlessness took over me. When, how, WHO. Why? Not why. I could sense the reason. That man was the chief investigator of the 1994 car bombing of AMIA (Israelite Argentine Mutual Association), the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, where 85 people were killed and about 300 injured. That man accused President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, his Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman (of Jewish religion, may I add) and other politicians of helping Iran to cover up the consequences of Argentina's worst terrorist attack. That man, on that Monday, was about to present his allegations to Congress. But that man had been killed hours ago, silencing the investigation forever. Condemning him and other 85 souls to oblivion. Making "justice" a simple word you can only find in the dictionary.
After a while, I came back to reality and went to my mother's bedroom to tell her. The reaction was the same. She could not believe it.
I still can't believe it.
Con esto, me juego la vida.
With this, I put my life at risk. (99, Nisman's words.)

That is how I found out about the murder of Nisman. And that is how Suicidado starts: with the retelling of how G. M. Bracesco found out.
Social media is a powerful thing. We know everything in real time. So, when journalist Damián Pachter tweeted, on January, 18, at precisely 11.35 p.m., that something was wrong in Nisman's apartment, the impact was reasonably tremendous. As he explains in the book, Bracesco himself was the first journalist that went to Puerto Madero to investigate and record everything that was going on. With that impressive amount of information, he created this work. Nonetheless, he warns us that his book constitutes a personal hypothesis.
Usually, the line that divides reality from fiction is ridiculously thin. And, according to Mark Twain, “The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible”. In Argentina, reality has lost every possible credibility, so a book about our last twenty years of history, wouldn't be logical, at all.
Again, the writer states that this is his hypothesis. It is defined as kind of a crime novel. And no one can affirm that this series of unfortunate events did not occur exactly the way the author explained us.

Bracesco's writing is very straightforward. The lack of pretentiousness in language is something that I always celebrate. It is not a simplistic writing style that underestimate the reader, but his colloquial use of the language helps you to easily connect with him. And, in the middle of such harsh descriptions, he made room for some funny remarks concerning certain characters and situations.
The structure of the book is simple and coherent. It contains short and engaging chapters with the author's explanations and descriptions and also fragments of news, interviews and records that support his words. There are some mistakes (editor, hello), maybe the rush of getting this book out on the streets, but everything I could ignore (okay, I still underlined with my pencil every one of those because I am a neurotic reader; I have a problem and I am aware of it so don't judge me!) because of the revolting feeling in all organs of my body due to every dreadful detail that portrayed human degradation at its finest. A wave of sorrow and anger took over me and by the time I finished the book, I was immersed in a sea of uncertainty and hopelessness. I am Argentine. I should be used to that by now, right? And still, I should not get so used to it, for that leads to political and social anesthesia. A state of mind that many politicians long for. We certainly can't allow that.

From the beginning, Bracesco tells us that power delays and degenerates investigations that are not convenient to the current administration. That usually, it is the common people that do not belong to the corrupted circle, the ones that ruin the intended perfect crime. And that is exactly what happened with Alberto Nisman. In this book, you will find out the possible reasons for the AMIA bombing, the on-off relationship between Argentina and Iran, the role of Venezuela in that particular aspect, the truth behind the infamous memorandum of understanding signed with Iran which mere objective was to boost trade with them and guarantee impunity to Iranian suspects...
Se busca por una cuestión política, borrar una causa de un crimen de lesa humanidad.
For a political matter, they intend to erase a case about a crime against humanity. (45, Nisman's words)

...how the murder of Nisman was possibly perpetrated and the events that followed (an exiled journalist, frightened witnesses, media manipulation by the ruling party, Lagomarsino's story, a President answering through Facebook), with a special part regarding how the experts that were supposed to preserve the scene, did all the contrary. Negligence or determination. Stupidity or obedience. Coffee, croissants and sandals over blood.
El encubrimiento siempre tiene cara de incompetencia e ineptitud.
The act of covering up always has the face of incompetence and ineptness. (12)

The desperation to cover up all the loose ends can make you fatally sloppy.

The special prosecutor of this case is Viviana Fein, who, during that fatal night, asked journalists for prudence, patience and said that in the course of a few days they would know the real cause of death.
Six months later, I am writing these lines and we still do not know officially, if it was a suicide, a forced suicide or a murder. Even though the evidence screams murder so loud. And yet, we are the only ones that hear that scream, despite all the Government efforts to make us listen otherwise. For they buried the prosecutor's complaint against the President and her staff, but they cannot bury the feeling we have as a society, that something doesn't quite fit...
Hoy no tengo pruebas, pero tampoco tengo dudas.
Today I don't have evidence, but I don't have doubts either. (176, Cristina Kirchner's words)

In conclusion, a prosecutor was killed the day before he could present his allegations to Congress after a ten-year investigation. Something that would have shaken our Government completely. We do not know much, but we do know that nothing in politics happens by mistake nor by accident. Everything has its reason. Everything can be planned. And we are always in the middle of their personal interests. Politics, business, media, powerful companies. They can always understand each other. We are the ones always in the middle. Watching. Waiting. Waiting for the punch, for the adjustment, for the legal consequences only reserved to us, like a never-ending tribute to the Kafkaesque universe.

Alberto Nisman is another wound in this chain of corruption, money and power that so well defines Argentine history. We should never forget. Books like this one are necessary to prevent us from forgetting. A shocking book; a necessary reading. Because in oblivion lies impunity. This is a thrilling story... until you realize that the death of prosecutor Nisman is not fiction.
We cannot forget.

Today is July, 17. I am writing this review as we commemorate the 21st anniversary of AMIA bombing.
21 years. 85 victims. Not a single convict. I have to find the strength to believe that Nisman, the 86th victim, will not have the same fate. And yet...

The following is a 1947 poem by the eclectic Dylan Thomas, that Bracesco included in his book. With this, I finish.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro - Ernest Hemingway


It was never what he had done, but always what he could do. (6)

Air. Fresh air. Clarity for the mind. A pause. Another view. Many things. Many things can be found in a white landscape. The snow hides many secrets. The beginning and the end of everything, there, on the top of Kilimanjaro. Harry knows it now. A little too late.
Wait, it is never too late, you say? Nonsense. Sometimes it is

A couple, Harry and Helen. They are in Africa. He is dying of gangrene; she is by his side, taking care of him. This is my first Hemingway and I really enjoyed it. His writing—at least in this short story—has the ability of conveying the inner process of one conflicted soul. He described feelings and memories with such beauty and acuity that I felt completely captivated. I do not care so much about the plot if you let me see what is inside somebody's mind by following the inextricably fascinating rhythm of your prose. Hemingway wrote. I followed. I got hurt, then healed while staring at the ceiling with that dreadful book next to me.

I did not know what to expect, to be honest. I do not know if this was the best short story to start my journey with this writer (whose work has also been described as... “painful”; I am officially afraid of his novels now). But I saw it. I felt it. During the whole time I was reading this story, I felt the air getting heavier. It was filled with nostalgia and regret: powerful things that can choke you to death. Death. It does not sound so scary when you start thinking about regret. The story you could have written. The call you should have made. The kiss you should have given. The confession you could have shared. The vulnerability you should not have hidden. The words you could have said; the words you should have swallowed. The life you should have lived. To the fullest. Whatever that is.
Death cannot be avoided. But regret... that unbearable weight upon your chest. That stubborn attitude of waiting for tomorrow knowing there are limits. Unforgivable. I have no excuse to justify mine. No good excuse, at least.
“Never look back.” “I don't regret anything”. Is that possible? Is that even human? We are swinging between the avoidable and our humanity.
Some riddles cannot be answered.
You kept from thinking and it was all marvellous. You were equipped with good insides so that you did not go to pieces that way, the way most of them had, and you made an attitude that you cared nothing for the work you used to do, now that you could no longer do it. But, in yourself, you said that you would write about these people... But he would never do it, because each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all. (5)

You cannot stop death. He kindly stops for you, a poet once wrote. He awaits by your side, resting his head on the foot of your bed while contemplating the setting sun. A bicycle policeman. A bird. A hyena.
But regret chokes. Slowly. Inexorably. Taking away all trace of existence while you are still breathing. The hunger for living. The desire of doing. Stillness.
A bundle of miserable contradictions. There are few things so human as regret.

La Hija del Campeón - Florencia Etcheves


I want you to notice, when I'm not around...
- Radiohead, "Creep"

...a los golpes entendió que ella formaba parte de la legión de los destrozados. [...with punches, she understood that she was part of the legion of the broken] (36)


Timing has never been my thing. Opportunities usually come too early to realize that they are opportunities. Sometimes, too late to even think about them. Dreams seem to work the same way. Apparently, they come to take place in your mind when you simply cannot fulfill them. "If you can imagine it, you can do it". That is a lovely Disney concept that not always have much to do with reality. I have always imagined living in Strawberry Shortcake's town but of course, that is not possible. I imagined it, I could not do it.

One dream that came too late for me is journalism. It came to my existence perhaps long ago, hiding behind my love for literature. However, my mind became aware of that a little too late, when I already had a profession. So, instead, I chose to read. I chose to read newspapers, magazines and books that skillful journalists have written. People who, maybe, have always known what they wanted to do with their lives. People touched by the magic wand of timing, with an admirable connection with their dreams and souls.
Florencia Etcheves, a well-known journalist that, like Ricardo Canaletti (whose Crímenes sorprendentes de la Historia argentina I reviewed here), specializes in Criminology. Her first book was La Virgen en tus ojos, which I haven't read yet. I simply saw La Hija del Campeón—her second work—in some bookshop and decided to try a genre that I am not quite used to read.

And what a surprise... This book is nothing but intensity. It is divided into three parts and it begins telling the story of a famous boxer, Pipo Larrabe, a worldwide champion. The personification of violence and impulsivity. A man with a certificate of poverty and the incapacity for dreaming. His hunger for possession and his lack of clear thoughts led him to murder a woman. The combination of his anger, his detached vision towards women—those “whores”—and an indifferent balcony ended the life of Elena Baldini: his ex wife, the mother of his own child, Ángela. A little girl whose innocence was contaminated by the acts of his bad-tempered father. After the murder of her mother, she was found hiding in her tree house by a young policeman. One that would be known for his expertise, some years later. From that moment on, a new case makes its appearance, waiting to be solved. Craving for justice. A new case in the phantasmagorical location of Key West, USA. The ghosts from the past have never abandoned Ángela, the champion's daughter. Same thing with Jerry, the police chief of Key West. Same thing with Juánez, the trustworthy Argentinian policeman.
Same thing with every one of us. Nothing screams so loud like ghosts in the middle of solitude.
La soledad tiene esas ventajas: no hay manera de que algo se modifique sin que llame la atención. (179)

Etcheves fuses her knowledge in Criminology with an intriguing story and all the faces that humanity has. Disturbing situations are combined with a unique attention to details and a subtle humor that breaks the ice just for a moment. Do not trust that light ambiance because it can last only for a paragraph, a sentence... for you could find yourself trapped again in the restless atmosphere of cruelty and mystery that the author so well can handle. Atmosphere and time. Time is a key factor in any story. And the writer manages it with remarkable skill. Nothing is too rushed, nothing goes too slow. With exquisite style, she knows what to share and when.

La Hija del Campeón was my first Argentinian crime novel. One of those books you wish you could have written because it deals with several topics such as the situations that a lot of women have to endure, all around the globe, with the respect and sensibility the matter deserves.
You might not even notice, but violence takes many forms and appears in many places. Places that may look quite normal on the surface. Every household is an entire universe.
El homicidio es un acontecimiento individual que no se repite nunca de la misma manera. (23)

Every act of violence is unique. And the philosophical question makes its way to our minds, again. What makes someone to think that the only way out, the only solution to all problems can be found by taking someone's life? People kill. Whether its for the placer a sick mind needs, or mere survival. Addictions, demons, misogyny, money, the past. While justifications are dancing inside someone's head...
En definitiva, el mundo no es un lugar compasivo. (17)

...tragedy awaits. And it does not know any limit.

Etcheves took all that, the suffering of everyone involved, the wish of giving voice to those in need and those who can no longer speak, the usual sense of invisibility—that need for being acknowledged, being noticed by someone, when we are present, mostly when we are not around— and transformed everything into a book. Something that, like the real stories, you will not forget.
One of those books you wish you could have written.
Muchas veces había pensado en ser pintor o músico, pero con la sensibilidad extrema no es suficiente Es necesario tener talento... (86)

Not complaining. Not a victim. Timing and the art of words have never been my thing.

* Photo credit: via Clockwise Cat.
Book cover via Goodreads.

Cuentos Crueles - Saki


Find yourself a cup of tea,
the teapot is behind you.
Now tell me about
hundreds of things.

- Saki 


Children. The innocence of life. The bittersweet reflection of truth. You might like it or not, but never ignore it. Their honest words will make their way to your soul and will fill it with joy. Or fear. Or shame.
They will always tell you the truth. They are still pure. They haven't learnt how to lie. Yet. But they will, after seeing adults, their role models. But until then, you can trust them.

Saki's children are a fine example of how to criticize the society of his time. Their social conventions and acts of hypocrisy are viciously portrayed, satirized by those little, candid faces that depict purity and honesty. Innocent faces that can also hurt the ego of the strongest and most mature person. Truth is not always pretty. It is avoided, most of the times. So when you see a little kid throwing it to your face, you have many awkward manners to react.

I have said before that Saki's children do not lie. And I stand by that statement. Even after reading “The Open Window” (a short story I already read in Cuentos de Saki, review here). What grown-ups call lying, for a kid is “imagination”. They create fantasy, not lies. There is no malice in their words. They learn that after getting to know the world. Until then, they only know the hunger for creativity. That playful inventiveness we lose at an office. Sometimes, even sooner.

No malice, and yet, this book written in Spanish was named Cuentos Crueles ("Cruel tales"). There is a short story called "The Penance". The children of this story made a brutal decision after witnessing a heartless act perpetrated by their neighbor. They were deeply hurt and they reacted with that situation in mind. However, they gave him the possibility of repentance. And they “un-beast” him.

All these brilliantly unique tales will make you laugh while sensing an awkward feeling of uneasiness. You might relate to some of these adults described by Saki. Or, if you are in luck, to his children. Either way, you just cannot stop reading his stories.

-This edition contains illustrations by Irene Singer.
-A quite decent translation by Graciela Pedraza.
** Photo credit: via Flashlarevista.
Book cover via Goodreads.

Crímenes Sorprendentes de la Historia Argentina - Ricardo Canaletti


Las personas no desaparecen.
People do not disappear. (25)

This book contains several stories about terrible crimes committed in Argentina from 1828 to 1962. Why did I bought this book? The reason is quite simple. The other day, I was in another city and had to wait many hours to go back to my house (bank, shops, my office, from 1 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.: nothing to do) and there was no way I could survive to all that without a book. I was in a hurry and, sadly, I forgot the book I was already reading at home. So I stopped at a bookstore and started to look around and then bought this one by Ricardo Canaletti, a well-known Argentine journalist who specializes in criminology.
And here we are.

The writing is simple, very straight-forward. That is Canaletti's signature. He has the ability of explaining complicated things with the simplicity of the greatest speakers (in this particular case, "writers"). And you cannot expect many beautiful and evocative lines in this kind of book. But simplicity does not mean underestimation, by no means. The author wants to reach every reader; he is beyond any technicality that would make him look erudite. He does not need that. The stories do not need that. For they are intriguing, unsettling and addictive, to say the least. They surprised me. They entertained me. They frightened me. Because they are real. These people existed. Any Argentinian will recognize many names. Heroes, patriots, politicians, famous judges and lawyers, painters, housewives, socialites, etc. They conform the context where troubled men and women became tragically famous.

This book serves as another tool to analyze human behavior, obviously. It deals with matters that are absolutely timeless. We are always repeating ourselves. We cannot break the circle. What motivates people to mistreat and even kill other people are always the same things. We are privileged witnesses of the vertiginous advance of technology, and yet, we are always in the same place. Our obsessions, our problems, the things a troubled mind see... That does not change.

Money, jealousy, envy, abuse, a tragic childhood, a violent household. They killed for pleasure, for necessity, for survival. Many different causes, same rationalization: “I had to”. “I did not have a choice”.
And sure, the justice for the masses and the justice for important names. Ringing any bells? Yup. A whole bell tower. Justice back then, during the barbaric era of the whipping and death penalty. Justice now, with a still manipulable legal system that reflects that certain people have more rights than others.
History certainly shows us that we have changed and we haven't changed that much.

There were times where I found myself amazed at people's creativity. An innocent-looking hunchback perpetrated some of the most complex robberies of the 19th century. Why the police didn't catch him sooner? It is kind of difficult to forget the physiognomy of a hunchback. But he was so ugly and looked “so stupid” that they thought he could have never planned robberies like that.
And other times, I was simply disgusted. The vileness of people that made the most savage animal look humane. The creation of disturbing universes out of petty, little things. The ability to hide their true nature and present themselves as honest people, making it impossible for society to believe they were really criminals. “Falsely honest men”, as Mittermaier said. And the absence of regret.
Some things cannot be fixed. A person that does not show any remorse seems to be no longer made of flesh and bones. Even if I choose to hold on to hope and think of forgiveness, regret and redemption, since we cannot be inside other people's minds. We cannot know exactly what the other person is feeling.
Is it in our genes? Is it in the air?

Hope. And some things cannot be fixed.

This review started with a quote I chose from Chapter 1. “People do not disappear”. It is a devastating sentence that leaves no doubt. A simple concept that conveys a powerful message. People do not vanish off the face of the Earth. That resonates deeply in the heart of many Argentines. During the time the dictatorship ruled this country, the de facto government used to say that the missing people were not dead. Like twisted Schrödingers, they did not know whether those human beings were dead or alive. They just disappeared.
No están. Son desaparecidos.

No. People do not disappear.

* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.

A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems - Fernando Pessoa


...I have in me all the dreams of the world.
Álvaro de Campos, “The Tobacco Shop”

This is going to be a long, tedious yet intense review. If you do not feel like reading an endless bunch of nonsense, you may leave now. However, poetry lover, I seriously suggest you this: get this book. As soon as possible. You have not fully lived until you live through the eyes of Pessoa.
There. You have been fairly warned. It is not my responsibility, anymore.

On June 13, 1888, a whole new world was born. It was created out of words, beauty and sorrow, and it was inhabited by numerous souls coexisting in one complex body. Light as air, fragile as bones. That body started doubting about his own existence. He, the one that distrusted thinking and preferred feeling above all things, could not stop thinking, like the rest of us simple mortals that wish to put our brains on hold to enjoy the sight of the world. Despite any doubt, we all know his presence was too real, too strong, bigger than a planet, a little larger than the entire universe.
That man was Fernando Pessoa, who was born under that last name as if he had already something to achieve, for Pessoa means “person”, and he have split himself into a multitude of heteronyms to convey the vastness that laid inside of him. A universe of literature and feelings was waiting to be awoken. The rich range of literature that the young Pessoa absorbed and the French symbolists he admired gave form to the brilliant writer we know today. Nonetheless, we should also thank Walt Whitman, since he embodied the most powerful force that made it possible for Pessoa to create four of the greatest poets of the 20th century: Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Álvaro de Campos and Fernando Pessoa-himself.
Certainly, Pessoa created the four poets aforementioned, but he endowed them with a time and place of birth, diverse thoughts, passion, different views on the world; ultimately, with existence. So it is only fair to speak about them as if they were real writers. Pessoa's mind might have been a common source for them, however, they alienated themselves. They took their own place in the world by force. The force of their art and the willing to live.
Thus, we shall begin.

The first thing we find inside this book is Zenith's remarkable “Introduction: The Birth of a Nation”. There, he skillfully describes Pessoa's most relevant life events and the process of his creations. He did not write a cold biography that merely enumerates certain events in someone's life. With a rich vocabulary, a clear style and the mesmerizing excerpts he intertwines with his own words, he created a true work of art. Be sure to not skip it.

Alberto Caeiro or The Primacy of Reality
Caeiro, born on April 16, 1889, personified the poet of Nature. He, the creator of The Keeper of Sheep, always said he wanted to see things as they are, without the interference of his brain. Without preconceptions. Without prejudices. Only the appreciation for what it really was. He did not consider himself as a materialist nor a deist: just a man that one fine day discovered that Nature existed.
Caeiro, the collector of facts. Facts he embellished with the art of the words. He thought he could detachedly describe Nature.
...I know I understand Nature on the outside,
And I don't understand it on the inside,
Because Nature has no inside.
If it did, it wouldn't be Nature. (31)

That he could dissipate the cloud of sentiment and portray only what his eyes were willing to see. Apparently, he could and, ironically, he made poetry out of that.
I believe in the world as in a daisy,
Because I see it. But I don't think about it,
Because to think is to not understand.
The world wasn't made for us to think about it...
To love is eternal innocence,
And the only innocence is not to think... (11)

By denying the possibility of thought, he released himself from the torture of expectations. Of anxiety. And doubts. He saw how the world was being handed to him and he accepted it (I accept because it's my nature to accept; 64), without questioning. This suppression of the mind might have led him to happiness.
...Seeing nothing but my thoughts...
I would grow sad and remain in the dark.
The way I am, without thinking, I have the Earth and the Sky. (36)

We will never know, of course. We have to rely on what he wrote... It does sound great in theory. Uncertainties are the rotten apple in someone's inner life. They are born in the mind and quickly reach the soul, creating a void that seems unstoppable.
I'm a keeper of sheep.
The sheep are my thoughts
And each thought a sensation.
I think with my eyes and my ears
And with my hands and feet
And with my nose and mouth.
Then I feel my whole body lying down in reality,
I know the truth, and I'm happy. (23)

I have said it was only fair to treat these poets as real people. Since I am human and, therefore, a walking contradiction, I have to say this: Caeiro is a very complex creation by Pessoa. And as much as I enjoy his poetry, I do not believe most of it. Only an invention can live without thinking. Or a charlatan claiming he can.
Even so, I sure find his poetry mesmerizing.
May this be my life, now and always:
The day bright with sunshine, or gentle with rain,
Or stormy as if the world were ending,
The evening gentle and my eyes attentive
To the people passing by my window,
With my last friendly gaze going to the peaceful trees,
And then, window shut and the lamp lit,
Without reading or sleeping and thinking of nothing,
To feel life flowing through me like a river between its banks,
And outside a great silence like a god who is sleeping. (46)

I can quote a million poems, even though I do not fully believe him. I believe De Campos, and quote Caeiro.

Anyway, like I said, I can only rely on what Caeiro wrote. I will never know the truth. He expressed that idea in the most beautiful way possible.
If, after I die, someone wants to write my biography,
There's nothing simpler.
It has just two dates—the day I was born and the day I died.
Between the two, all the days are mine. (61)


Ricardo Reis or The Serene Acceptance of Fate
Born in 1887, this physician and classicist continued Caeiro's vision on the world but in a more measured way. An incurable pagan, he accepted the world as it was and expressed that acceptance through the traditional style of his art. A quiet, modest and structured art.
16 June 1914
...The sun of the Parthenon and Acropolis
Which lit up the slow and weighty steps
of Aristotle speaking.
But Epicurus speaks more
To my heart with his caressing, earthly voice;
His attitude toward the gods is of a fellow god,
Serene and seeing life
At the distance where it lies. (86)

He did not want extremes. He had no desires but the absence of desires.
9 July 1930
...wanting little,
A man has everything. Wanting nothing,
He's free. Not having and not desiring,
He's equal, though man, to the Gods. (129)

He did not like conflict and he probably never had any since he serenely chose to accept fate. He accepted everything—and he encouraged us to do the same—even though he disliked changes, as he openly manifested in several poems. He seemed to actually enjoy the silent murderer that is the routine of life.
9 October 1916
...Anything whatsoever that changes
The smooth course of my existence,
Though it change it for something better,
Because it means change,
I hate and don't want. May the gods
Allow my life to be a continuous,
Perfectly flat plain, running
To where it ends.
Though I never taste glory and never
Receive love or due respect from others,
It will suffice that life be only life
And that I live it. (102)

It is so beautifully put and yet I struggled with the idea. Some of Reis' poems express simple ideas that my egocentrism could not understand. Who am I to judge if someone loves a dull and plain existence?

Reis' writing lacks the spirited style of Caeiro's poetry. However, it is remarkably evocative. There is so much beauty in his rationalization.
There is a poem called “The Chess Players”. Chess always serves as a marvelous parallelism between us and life itself (it immediately reminded me of Zweig's short story). The language that Reis was capable of creating is simply exquisite.
...Glory weighs like an overlarge burden
And fame like a fever,
Love wearies, for it ardently searches,
Science never finds,
And life grieves, for it knows it is passing...
The game of chess
Completely absorbs one's heart but weighs little
When lost, for it's nothing. (99)

Rhythm and structures. Forms and rules. Acceptance of life. Melancholy caused by change. That is Reis, the king of the conflicting verse.
2 March 1933
Each day you didn't enjoy wasn't yours:
You just got trhough it. Whatever you live
Without enjoying, you don't live.
You don't have to love or drink or smile.
The sun's reflection in a puddle of water
is enough, if it pleases you.
Happy those who, placing their delight
In slight things, are never deprived
Of each day's natural fortune. (134)


Alvaro de Campos or The Unstoppable Desire of Everything and Nothing

It's not with the eyes but with the soul that I see; it's not with the ears but with the soul that I hear; it's not with the skin but with the soul that I touch.

And if someone should ask me what the soul is, I'll answer that it's me. (146)

Born in 1890. Lover of machines. Enemy of progress. Pursuer of freedom. Admirer of solitude. Pessoa's playful, sometimes scathing critic.
De Campos was madness. He was intensity, ecstasy, imbalance. The love and hatred for modern civilization. He was the violent desire of breaking loose; the passionate longing for sensations. He was the furious imagination that craved for something new. New people, new places.
The frenetic
of self.
Everything can be clearly seen in his “Maritime Ode”:
Ah, to depart! By whatever means and to whatever place!
To set out across the waves, across unknown perils, across the sea! (173)

To take off...
My peaceful life,
My seated, static, orderly and repetitive life! (175)

Ah, pirates! Pirates!
The yearning for lawlessness coupled with brutality,
the yearning for absolutely cruel and abominable things,...
Beat and humiliate me!
Make me into something that's dragged
—O pleasure, O beloved pain!—
As if behind horses whipped by you...
But all this at sea, at se-e-e-ea, at SE-E-E-E-EA! (184)

I have seen what is inside of him. And some of what I have seen should never leave that dark nook of his soul.

As much as De Campos wanted to contain the world (Whitman's presence is unquestionable, there is even a poem called “Salutation to Walt Whitman”: I salute you, Walt, I salute you, my Universal brother/Forever modern and eternal, the singer of concrete absolutes...), we distinguish two different sides of him. After the part kept inside of him loudly asked to be freed, to see the world, the part he inevitably showed to the world—the part that mildly asked to be noticed while yearning for solitude—brought calm and a sense of relief. Relief for myself, since I know now that not everything is an hysterically desire of satisfying his instinctual self.
The same poem portrays it perfectly.
An inexplicable feeling of tenderness,
a tearful and heartfelt remorse...
Ah, how could I think or dream those things?
How far I am from what I was a few minutes ago! (187)

De Campos embodied desire, in all forms. He expected too much. He wanted too much. Having such a strong, almost stubborn desire of experiencing everything, can lead to nothing more than despair. And ultimately, uncertainty. A sense of loss. The lack of meaning that haunts every mortal.
The poet wanted to feel all the sensations of the world while being on the never-ending quest for identity. He did not know who he was; he did not know what he wanted.
Salutation to Walt Whitman
I'm exhausted from being so many things.
The latecomers are finally arriving,
And I suddenly get sick of waiting, of existing, of being.
It's good to feel, if for no other reason, so as to stop feeling. (215)

Delightful contradictions from the man that a couple of pages ago wanted to meet the whole world.
Lisbon Revisited (1923)
Don't grab me by the arm!
I don't like my arm being grabbed. I want to be alone,
I already told you that I can only be alone!
I'm sick of you wanting me to be sociable! (216)

He who does not know himself at all, has to settle with wanting everything. And most of the times, he achieves nothing.
Lisbon Revisited (1926)
Nothing holds me.
I want fifty things at the same time.
I long with meat-craving anxiety
For I don't know what—
Definitely something indefinite... (218)


Fernando Pessoa-himself or The Analyst of Being
Another side of the real Pessoa. The sum of different aspects of the three poets analyzed before.
However, this review has reached the longitude of The Great Wall of China without even noticing, so I will control my enthusiasm. (That was a lie; I cannot control anything.)

Melancholy, despair; elements that are often present in FP-himself's poetry. Just like the themes of dreams and creativity, which characterizes the real Pessoa's works.
Seeker of the truth. The analyst of humanity. The intellectual side of sentiments. Lord of disquiet.
We see a man expressing his feelings through a poetic melody that runs aimlessly all over the world. The one thing he had to channelize his emotions and purge himself from whatever was troubling him.
I wonder if he ever succeeded.
Some Ramdon Verses
...What matters is that nothing matter
Anymore... Whether Fate
Hangs over us or quietly and obscurely
Lurks in the distance
Is all the same... Here's the moment...
Let's be it... What good is thinking? (286)

Four poets deal with similar topics from their own perspectives. Each one of them has a unique personality and style. They do the best they can with the little they have.

The haunting past is usually trying to make its way into the life, approaching with firm steps. Calm but steady. Nostalgia is heavy. Ruthless. It can wear us out in a day. FP-himself cannot escape from that, either.
from Songbook
...You are to me like a dream—
In my soul your ringing is distant.

With every one of your clangs
Resounding across the sky,
I feel the past farther away,
I feel nostalgia close by. (274)

Nonetheless, the worst side of nostalgia is the one caused by something that have never existed. Only time can heal the frustrating wounds of missing what we never had.

There is an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness in FP-himself's verses. You inevitably feel empathy with his afflicted soul. I am well acquainted with the desire of breaking the patterns of loneliness while embracing the safe place that solitude provides.
Diary in the Shade
Don't you still sense in my sad and calm face
The sad child who always played far away from the others
And sometimes looked at them with sad eyes but without regret?
I know you're watching and don't understand what sadness is
That makes me look sad.
It isn't regret or nostalgia, disappointment or resentment.
No... It's the sadness...
The incurable sadness
Of one who realizes that everything's pointless, worthless,
That effort is an absurd waste,
And that life is a void,
Since disillusion always follows on the heels of illusion
And Death seems to be the meaning of Life... (288)

Beautiful verses, and that kind of life is intolerable.

So. Here we are.
Caeiro, Reis, De Campos, Himself. I have met them all. I am in the same place, inside the same body that cages the same restless soul that quietly longs for something different.
I am in the same place and yet, I feel like I lived a little more.

By meeting one person I have met the entire universe.
Fernando Pessoa or the intellectual dissection of the soul.

Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads.
Painting: Catarina Inácio