With January comes the heat (I know, you hadn’t noticed until I told you), vacations (for the lucky few), and a general much slower pace when it comes to, you know, doing stuff. So why not take advantage and use this time to pick up a book or ten? (Nerd alert here, don’t judge.) As part of The Bubble’s series exploring literary options, here’s a collection of five of our favorite Argentine writers that doesn’t include anybody named Borges, Cortázar, or Puig:
The youngest of six sisters, Silvina Ocampo was raised in an aristocratic family and tutored by private governesses. She learned to speak French and English before Spanish, which led her to express how “[she] felt both languages were already consolidated; however, Castellano needed to be re-invented.”
Not only did she help give the language new life, she also helped it become an authentic identification of the country. She created fictional worlds where the distinction between reality and fantasy was blurred, while setting new roles for independent, empowered women.
In her lifetime, Silvina’s success was always dwarfed by her sister’s, Victoria, thanks in part to her high cultural profile and her relationships with both her husband, Aldolfo Bioy Casares, and popular friend, Jorge Luis Borges. Although her career was largely overshadowed by the magical aura surrounding her loved ones, Silvina’s greatest short stories came to light twelve years after her death.
Some of her most remarkable anthologies are Las invitadas, Cuentos difíciles, Viaje Olvidado, Cornelia frente al espejo y otros cuentos, and Autobiografía de Irene.
Together with Daína Chaviano from Cuba and Elía Barceló from Spain, Angélica Gorodischer is one the most important science fiction writers in Ibero-America.
There’s always a smile on her face when she claims that she’s never written plays nor poems, not even at the age of sixteen when everyone commits to writing in verse about their latest breakup. Her most recent books detach themselves from the genre as they intend to narrate intimate close stories, many of them related to her own childhood experiences, as well as stories about women’s struggle for equality.
Angélica has frequently been compared to Virginia Woolf, as both writers hail the androgynous spirit as a key ideal in the transformation of our sexist society. Consequently, her aim is to deconstruct the feminine gender in order to respond to long rooted social inequalities. In doing so, she confronts the reader’s ideas and opinions, making her a must read not only because she’s become a pioneer in the genre of science fiction, but also because she’s a flag bearer in our struggle against chauvinism.
Her latest books are great examples of empowered women who fight every day for recognition. Her works include Opus Dos, Kalpa imperial, Trafalgar, Querido amigo, La cámara oscura, and Coro.
Abelardo Castillo was one of the most remarkable writers of our time. He’s founded some of the most significant literary magazines, such as El Escarabajo de Oro, and trained many aspiring writers.
Treason, cruelty, threat, guilt, and incompetence are all recurrent themes in Castillo’s stories, where characters move about dancing clubs, streets, slums and small towns where they face extreme situations which change the protagonists forever. Always fascinated with characters whose visceral behavior leads them towards radical circumstances, Castillo’s stories are depicted in an almost three dimensional way, where human magnetism and fleshed-out complexity allows the writer not only to express what the character obviously feels, believes, and says, but also what he doesn’t – where an absence of thoughts and descriptions speak as loudly as the thoughts and descriptions themselves.
Castillo achieved his fame thanks to his talent for play-writing, which allowed him to receive many awards (such as the Diamond Konex Award in 2014). He regarded writers as restless spirits, immoderate individuals, rebels, and found the relationship between literature and social commitment deeply intertwined. To put it in a nutshell, Castillo is a writer to be read during our youth, just when our most insurgent spirits lurk in the air. His most important works include El que tiene sed, El espejo que tiembla, Israfel, Ser escritor, and Diarios, among others.
Rodolfo Fogwill stated that she was the most important Argentine writer and Haroldo Conti compared her to Carson McCullers, but Hebe is just Hebe: a writer who finds beauty in the ordinary, who’s fond of small towns, and who loves animals.
It’s precisely this unpretentious way of living that can be perceived in her writing style. To Uhart, a good writer is the one who can give a detailed description of a small event rather than to bombastically express ideas about love, military dictatorships, hunger in Africa, the bombing of Guernica, or any other grand event or idea. The way she sees it, this are all generalizations, and following what Flannery O’Connor once stated, “it’s easier for people to express an abstract idea than to describe a particular concrete object.”
“The writer’s job is to observe experience, not to merge with it,” declared Hebe in one of her many interviews. Writer’s need to go beyond prejudices and stereotypes: It’s their duty to describe as much as possible and in this way, provide the reader with the truth and not some pre-established social convention. Writer and narrator must be separated: Just as Nietzsche took his pain and called it “dog”, the writer needs to do the same and in this way observe the dog, separate from it.
Reading Hebe at an early age is a great activity for all those who find it hard to live in the ordinary world and who are constantly trying to embellish reality. Some of her most significant novels and short stories are Dios, San Pedro y las almas, Leonor, Turistas, Relatos reunidos, and Viajera crónica.
Ricardo Piglia once stated that all short stories have two different ways of being read: the real, visible story, and the one underneath.
Emilio Renzi, a character that repeatedly appears in many of his books, is in fact an alter ego of the author himself, taken from his real name Ricardo Emilio Piglia Renzi. This choice is related to Hebe Uhart’s idea of dissociation: Piglia thought it would be a good way of moving away from his identity, and so preventing his writing from becoming too personal. In his own words, “I don’t like confessions, we need to give intimacy a dramatic, ironic twist.”
“It’s all mine, the material is all mine, it’s my life, but retold from another person’s point of view,” said the author. He mastered the art of essay and diary writing in a way no other writer had ever done before, and his burning interest in writing diaries came from the ability to portray them as an example of the surrealist notion of automatic writing – a diary isn’t corrected because its energy comes from a spontaneous impulse.
Piglia’s cult novel Respiración artificial opens with a phrase by T.S Elliot that’s key to understanding the novel: “We had the experience but missed the meaning, an approach to the meaning restores the experience.” Renzi and Maggi, the two protagonists of the book, try, through lengthy conversations, to solve puzzling enigmas such as the implausible encounter between Hitler and Kafka. Reading Piglia is a good training on how to become an attentive reader.
Some of his musts include Respiración artificial, Plata quemada, Prisión perpetua, and any selection of his essays.
Not that you need me to tell you this, but this is by no means an exhaustive list – it’s simply a couple of the writer’s that have impacted in this young mind by the time this article was written. Have any suggestions? Put them in the comments! And happy reading!