-¿Ustedes son boludos?
-¡No! Ustedes no son boludos, ustedes son vivos.
["Are you all idiots?"
"No! You're not idiots--you're alive."]
(Los pichiciegos, 243)
If I remember the story correctly, the then 41-year old Fogwill supposedly wrote all of Los pichiciegos [The Pichiciegos; available in English under the artificially fabricated and hence completely idiotic title of Malvinas Requiem] in Buenos Aires in 1982 during the two months of that year that la Guerra de las Malvinas a/k/a the Falklands War took place--a war that saw nearly 1,000 people lose their lives over land that could only be loved by sheep. Legend has it that early manuscript copies of the work circulated by hand among the author's friends until the departure of the military government in the following year made it safe to publish the work without fear of reprisals. In any event, you, the intrepid Spanish Lit Month reader, can now enjoy Los pichiciegos in the privacy of your own home and in one or both of the two bellicose languages to boot--great news since Fogwill somehow managed to turn this punch in the mouth of Argentine nationalism into one of my personal faves in all of recent Spanish-language literature. How, exactly, did he do it? To try and answer that, I should probably begin by noting that the titular pichiciegos, named after a rare breed of blind mini-armadillo found in Argentina's wine country whose most famous attribute is said to be its ability to burrow underground and live unseen by man, are a small band of deserters trying to ride out the remainder of the war while trapped in the dangerous no man's land between Argentinean and British lines. Since survival is the only form of "victory" that matters to these human pichiciegos, they spend most of their time underground digging, expanding their storehouse of food, water, and cigarettes, fantasizing about what they'll do if they ever make it out alive, and occasionally trading information to the British troops in exchange for food, batteries, and other essential supplies while waiting for the war to hurry up and end. I suspect that the speed with which Fogwill wrote Los pichiciegos may account for some of the 121-page novel's considerable energy. However, he also makes it easy for the reader to identify with his none too heroic cast of characters both because of the conversational tone and the humor of the narrative but also on account of a rare knack he has for being able to shift from the horrors of war to the often comic camaraderie among the men without missing a beat. You'd probably have to read this for yourself to understand why one scene of a pichiciego cheering on a British bombing run against non-pichiciego Argentine troops or another scene of a British Sea Harrier playing mind games with a lone pichiciego who has been caught out in the open and is too paralyzed to move remain indeliby etched on my mind, but in the meantime here's a good short example of Fogwill getting at the futility of this particular war with his typical sense of humor. The set-up: a few pichiciegos have just gotten ahold of a British newspaper which, once translated, reveals the uncomfortable truth that the British are just as uncertain about how the war will end as the Argentineans are (282):
-¡No saben lo que pasa ni lo qué va a pasar! -decía Viterbo.
-¿Y a vos qué te gustaría que pasara?
-Qué gane la Argentina.
-¡Y vas en cana!
-¡Yo qué sé! ¿Vos?
-Yo quisiera que pacten y que se dejen de joder.
-Que pacten, que podamos volver.
-Que ganen ellos, que los fusilen a todos, y que a nosotros nos llevan de vuelta a Buenos Aires en avión.
Idea de porteño.
["They don't know what's happening nor what's going to happen!" Viterbo was saying.
"And what would you like to see happen?"
"That Argentina wins."
"And you're going to jail!"
"What do I know? You?"
"I'd like them to make a peace treaty and stop fucking around."
"That they make a peace treaty, so we can return."
"That they win, that they execute everybody, and that they take us back to Buenos Aires by plane."
A Buenos Aires guy's idea.]
Los pichiegos is available separately or as part of the Cantos de marineros en La Pampa anthology, which is where I read it (Barcelona: Mondadori, 1998, 229-350). Fogwill's as yet untranslated "Muchacha punk" is one of the best short stories I've ever read, so the next thing I read by this famous wacko is sure to be a massive letdown. I'm OK with that for now.
Thanks -- I loved Wilcock's "El Ángel" (my translation here, with link to original). This story has a distinctly Thomas-Pynchony sound to it, from your description.ResponderBorrar
I haven't read any Pynchon, Jeremy, but I think most Wilcock fans might very much enjoy Fogwill and vice versa. I consider myself a fan of both, but I haven't decided which one was the bigger weirdo yet.Borrar
Added to my list. If this keeps up, I may well spend the rest of the year reading nothing but literature from Spanish-speaking countries.ResponderBorrar
Scott, I can't imagine you not liking this one under any title. I've toyed with the idea of going all Romance Language lit the rest of the year, but I've got two or three German writers that are calling my name--obstacles, I tell you, obstacles!Borrar
Scott, that would be a terrible shame.ResponderBorrar
If only the English version were titled The Burrowing Armadillos. If I ever buy a copy I will have to make my own cover.
The Burrowing Armadillos would be sure to be mistaken for a '60s acid rock band. I can see the Haight & Ashbury-style posters now. I do like the idea of that homemade cover, though.Borrar
seems like it is a variant spelling of "pichiciago" or Pink Fairy Armadillos (which would at least be a very strange title for the English translation)ResponderBorrar
That's the right critter, Jeremy, but I see no reason to translate the title since the animal is only found in Argentina, the origin of the name is explained in the novel, and you can readily Google what a "pichiciego" is anyway. The Pichiciegos works for me; a footnote or a blurb on the back cover would have done the trick better than inventing a boring and somber title like Malvinas Requiem. Meh.Borrar
If the book ever gets published in English under the title Pink Fairy Armadillos, I will most certainly buy Amateur Reader's cover for it.ResponderBorrar
I want Amateur Reader's cover also. I might have to crayon over The Burrowing Pink Fairy Armadillos or whatever y'all decide to call it, but I want that cover anyway. Hey, maybe we can commission the artwork for Spanish Lit Month 2013!Borrar
Fogwill's translator mentions that the author was enraged by his English publisher's re-titling.ResponderBorrar
I can easily imagine the Fogwillian fury, Jeremy, but thanks for the link to that article nonetheless. Cheers!Borrar
¡Qué buen libro!, ¿no, Richard? Cantos de marineros en La Pampa es una colección imprescindible. "Muchacha Punk" es genial, sí, pero no es el único gran cuento en ese libro, eh: para mi gusto también son muy buenos "Historia de paso" o "La larga risa de todos estos años", por ejemplo. ¡Saludos, good pick!ResponderBorrar
Je je je, gracias por lo del "good pick", Martín, pero sí, es un librazo por cierto. Tengo ganas de leerlo de nuevo. De todos modos, gracias también por tus recomendaciones (ésta y una de hace un par de años) en lo que refiere a Cantos de marineros en La Pampa; intentaré acabar con los otros cuentos pampeanos en agosto y empezar con los Cuentos completos fogwillianos antes del fin del año. ¡Saludos!Borrar
I hadn't heard of this, but it sounds really interesting. I know there's been more mention of late regarding the Falklands war/Guerra de las Malvinas due to the anniversary, but I really don't know much about it, and it sounds like this novel offers an interesting perspective on it. Also, love your comment about the sheep!ResponderBorrar
Thanks, Amanda, but I might have borrowed that line about the sheep--remember reading something a long time ago about how inhospitable the Malvinas are/were, but I can't remember whether I stole the line outright or just wrote something that was in the same general vein of the complaint. In any event, Los pichiciegos is a super book--one of the highlights of my month for sure! Cheers!Borrar