¡Hola everyone !
Okay, let’s get back to that moment when I was (as usual) searching for titles for my list. I am quietly surfing on the webpage of the éditions Seuil’s catalogue, and I must admit that it is its cover that incites me to find out more about The History of Argentina, by Rodrigo Fresán. I read its résumé, it looks like an unusual and inspiring book – that’s why I choose it for my challenge. Right. Back to now, now that I have read it, and let’s see.
Here I am, resolutely puzzled. Indeed, I don’t really know what to think about this piece : first of all, it is a very peculiar collection of stories, starring weird characters in weird situations. At first sight, all of these texts look like they are talking about different characters ; and however, it gradually appears that they are closely interlinked. We always come back to the same protagonists, and also to the same storylines that overlap and intertwine until we can recompose a global narrative. This coherence is unveiled bit by bit, and stays a little hidden by the constant changes of narrator, of point of view, of things’ designation, by the pronoun games, by the timeleaps throughout the history… I admit that this has made my reading quite muddled. I have to signal that Rodrigo Fresán’s style is also singular : stuffed with cultural references (from Bob Dylan to Marcel Proust) and sometimes hard to stick to. To be honest, it is way more patchy than I was expecting.
What also confused me is the harsh contrast between the different texts. If the content is fairly consistent, the form is totally disparate. It’s not rare to face very diverse formats from one story to the other : extremely short ones, rather long ones, and even a very surprising one called La Roca Argentina (a nearly journalistic commentary of an album’s tracks, that surprised me, but convinced be also). This led me, necessarily, to have huge differences of affinity with the various texts, and it also disrupted my reading experience. Let’s explain. Some stories fascinated me, even if they were undoubtedly unexpected : the very referential L’Apprenti sorcier (sorry, I didn’t find the titles in English), the captivating Le héros du roman que je n’ai pas encore commencé à écrire, the entertaining Des gens avec des Walkman that insists on my “favourite” character…
But along with these pleasant surprises, I have also been confronted to other texts that I unfortunately totally disliked. It is a very personal view, but I must recognise that I couldn’t engage into Le bord extérieur, which is placed halfway in the book and made me feel like I wouldn’t be able to finish it at all, or into La passion des foules for example. I am really embarrassed of these poorer experiences, because I feel like I missed a part of the author’s message.
However, I appreciated the very neutral, kind of distant look on the recent history of Argentina – the stories themselves only broach it implicitly, a very interesting commentary by Ignacio Echevarría, at the beginning of my French edition of 2009, clarifies the events evoked in the book, and reveals a shockingly unstable modern history. Here, the author gives a rather dispassionate depiction of his home country, observing himself and the world around him “from the outside”, like his characters do.
That book is obviously not the one I have liked the most since the beginning of my challenge ; and still, I managed to find positive aspects that helped be go over the convoluted constructions and my lack of affection for some of the stories. Thanks to its often prickly thoughts, its surrealistic situations and the variety of literary structures, I do not regret the choice of The History of Argentina. Furthermore, I invite you not to hesitate to try and make up your own opinion about it, because even if I struggled to reach the end, I am still convinced that it is an unconventional way of telling history, and that it is worth the discovery.
> The next review will be about The Year of the Hare, by Arto PAASILINNA.
> FRESÁN, Rodrigo – Histoire argentine, éditions du Seuil – translated from Spanish by Isabelle Gugnon – prefaces by Ray Loriga and Ignacio Echevarría.
> written listening to “Himno Nacional Argentino” .