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Category Archive for 'Argentina'

In a remote, almost unpopulated area adjacent to Argentina’s pampas, China Iron, the main character and speaker in this small epic, grew up believing that she was “born an orphan,” never having known her mother. Brought up as a virtual slave by a woman known as Las Negra, she was then married off to Martín Fierro, a gaucho-singer who won her in a card game and by whom she had two sons before reaching the age of fourteen. Now, in 1872, her husband has been conscripted by the army, along with all the other young men of the outpost, and China has decided to take off, not in search of her sometimes violent husband, but in search of a life. Leaving her babies with an elderly couple, she joins with Liz, a red-haired Scottish woman whose husband Oscar was conscripted before he could take possession of land he had planned to purchase and develop. Liz, with an oxcart, supplies, and clothing from her previous life abroad, is about to set off across the pampas in her cart to find and rescue Oscar, and she is happy to have some company. The trip becomes a mini-epic (with a twist) based on the Martín Fierro work from 1872, as China, Liz, and the cowherd Rosario head for new worlds beyond the pampas. Brilliant descriptions, lively characters, and a picture of Argentina in the 1800s that few will forget. On the Favorites List.

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In OPTIC NERVE, Argentinian author Maria Gainza’s narrator invites the reader into her life and her love of art, celebrating the glorious feelings which come to her, often suddenly, when she sees an artwork and suddenly connects with it emotionally. These unexpected moments provide thrills in her life, forever joining her spiritually with the people and places associated with the work. As she muses on these moments in this collection of stories which epitomize her life, she allows her mind and its associations free rein, celebrating not just the original artwork but the long-term effects it often has on her life. Some of the artists featured include Gustave Courbet, Henri Toulouse Lautrec, Mark Rothko, Henri Rousseau, and Candido Lopez, each of whom is connected thematically with some aspect of the speaker’s life, while the author also features literary references. Writers as different from each other as A. S. Byatt, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Truman Capote, Guy de Maupassant, Victor Hugo, and Carson McCullers are also quoted here, and other writers, like Katherine Mansfield, Somerset Maugham, Nikolai Gogol, and J. D. Salinger are referenced. A treat for readers who enjoy literary fiction especially when paired with paintings.

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Set in Patagonia, in the southernmost part of Argentina and Chile, during an unspecified time period, this novel by French author Sandrine Collette shows life at the edges, as a dysfunctional family tries to stay alive though the herding of cattle and sheep on a remote ranch in the steppe. Shortly after the novel begins, the father disappears, their mother saying that he “took off,” without explanation. After that, the mother assumes the role of boss – and she is one of the most demanding bosses imaginable, performing the kitchen duties and managing the finances while assigning the hard work out on the steppe to her four sons. The grim novel which follows is a difficult read with the boys experiencing no joyfulness, no satisfaction with their work, no love, and no let-up in sight throughout the book. When the mother becomes an alcoholic, as was her husband, and often disappears to gamble at the bar in the remote town nearest their ranch, the boys are left on their own, with unstable Mauro in charge, a situation obviously headed for disaster. When the mother runs into debt from gambling, their fraught lives become even more horrific. Full of action, the novel will appeal especially to those who enjoy seeing life lived on the edge, with violence always just a step away, though it sometimes intrudes unexpectedly here and complicates the characters’ lives.

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Within a swirling time frame and several settings which change suddenly through unexpected flashbacks, Italian author Erri De Luca creates a character whose life breathes with subdued passion and the tragedy of sudden terror. Now fifty, the unnamed speaker is working as a gardener/landscaper on a large estate in Italy owned by Mimmo, a filmmaker, someone the speaker knew when they were youths in Turin. Leading a solitary life, the speaker is surprised one evening when an attractive younger woman flirts with him while she is eating lunch with another man at a tavern. After she’s gone, he plans what he might say if he were to see her again. He has had little social contact with other people in recent years, using his gardening skills and his connection with nature for his satisfaction – “caring more about it than about people.” For twenty years he lived in Argentina, participating in the “dirty war” there, “days filled with trouble, ruined by death that tears away clumps of us folks, stuffs thousands of the living, freshly plucked, into its sack.” As he tries to sort out his life, the reader learns of his marriage there, his traumas, and his wandering life since then, and as the speaker contemplates the meaning of his present condition, the novel works its way up to a grand climax and startling finale. Themes related to life and death, war and peace, fear and commitment, and responsibility and self-preservation combine to affect the conclusion. Erri De Luca has been described by Milan’s daily newspaper Corriere della Serra as “the only true first-rate writer that the new millennium has given us for now.”

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Among South American authors, Claudia Pineiro is one of my unabashed favorites, at least in part because the expectations she creates in her readers combine with her sense of irony and dark humor to deliver clever plot twists and sudden narrative shifts. The conclusions of her novels always leave me with a smile on my face – tricked again. Like her three previous novels which have been translated and released in English (by Bitter Lemon Press – see links below) this novel too, is full of surprises. Pineiro always provides depth to her work, vividly depicting the values of her society and the ethical conflicts which often haunt her main characters. Dishonesty and crime certainly play strong roles in her plots, but she is less concerned with depicting violence and gore than in illustrating the interplay of good and evil in her characters’ lives; she writes with a light tone, almost of self-mockery, not characteristics one usually associates with “crime writing.” Here, however, the author also introduces a dramatically altered narrative style, one which allows her to expand her themes and the vision of the world as seen by her characters. Pineiro, winner of the Pleyade Journalism Award for her past reporting, puts her many years of experience in the field to work as she develops the main characters, most of whom are associated with El Tribuno, the main newspaper in the area. The conclusion, always a surprise in Pineiro’s novels, has some special twists here, too, some of which may explain the narrative style.

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