NewsLatin Americaremember the crush

remember the crush

The Mexican writer Jose Emilio Pacheco, in 2009.Cesar Durione

This is the web version of Letras Americanas, the newsletter of EL PAIS America that runs every 15 days the news from Rio Bravo to Tierra del Fuego. To receive it every Sunday you can in this link.

There are books, dear reader, that one reopens from time to time, to discover that there is still the same emotion that was experienced in the first reading.

“That city is over. That country is over. There is no memory of those years. And nobody cares: who can be nostalgic for that horror, ”wrote Jose Emilio Pacheco in The battles in the desert, that beautiful novel that, moreover, must have been one of the last to be published as a serial.

The sentence that I just quoted from the narrator, who remembers to the same extent that he tells us the story of the city where he had to live his childhood and that of his first crush, making time move forward and backward, as opposite vectors, he continues: “Everything happened like the records on the jukebox. I will never know if Mariana is still alive. If she were alive today she would already be eighty years old”. I remember the novel by Jose Emilio Pacheco, however, not because I was looking for that emotion the first time, but because it was the first that came to my head when I finished reading luminous animals, by the Peruvian writer Jeremias Gamboa… or not, I remember it and I mention it here, rather, because the novel that came to mind, shortly after closing Gamboa’s book, was the last by the Argentine writer Mauro Libertella, An earlier future which in turn made me, then, evoke Pacheco’s. That was, well, what happened: when both were in my mind, I remembered The battles in the desert.

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a bright future

Maybe yes an earlier future it would not have come to my memory, if I had only been thinking, chewing, in reality, the overwhelming sensations of rage, impotence and helplessness that Gamboa’s book leaves in the body, instead of The battles in the desert I would have remembered another of those books that preserve forever the clarity of their emotions: deserted cities, of Jose Agustin —who, like the Peruvian, tells a story that takes place in a gringo university city, loaded with two of the heaviest tiles of our tares, racism and machismo—, as well as, if there were hardly finished reading Gamboa’s book, or if I had started to remember before reading it, that is, if I had remembered remembering only Libertella’s book, instead of Pacheco’s and, of course, instead of also deserted cities, I would have thought of, for example, the diaristic work of Mario Levrero.

But the truth is that I had both books in my head and that’s why I remembered Pacheco’s. And it is that both Gamboa and Libertella —the sensations left by the Argentinian book, which tells the story of a love that had no permission in the past but that only when it is consummated gives permission to the future and thus leads us to the idea that loss is sometimes necessary to gain what you have and that everyday life is nothing but a sentence to disappointment, they are not overwhelming but they are overwhelming, a difference that could well be due to the fact that, while the author of luminous animals doubles its bet from the force of a narration that would seem “a ball of fire”, that of an earlier future he does it from the conviction of a kind of essayistic autobiography (hence, also, that I could have thought of Levrero)—connect with that tradition that tells of a past that goes backwards but also forwards.

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With that tradition that tells of a past that goes backwards but also forwards, in addition to the fact that both narrate the story of a youthful relationship that will become either a presence that gives everything meaning or an absence that radiates absolute lack of meaning —what is a gain in Libertella’s book is a loss in Gamboa’s, while what is a gain in the Peruvian’s is a loss in the Argentinian’s: the always hard and painful maturation of an individuality in a world that stalks with sharp fangs—while both, of course, condense and summarize an era that suddenly appears to us either as a country, or as a world, or as an era lost forever . And here it does not matter whether it is the country, the world or the era that is spoken of in the novel or whether it is the country, the world or the era that is being fled from, when it is spoken of in the novel.

Peruvian writer Jeremias Gamboa.
Peruvian writer Jeremias Gamboa.DANIEL MORDZINSKI

The battle and the desert

The battle and the desert are, to put it another way, different for each of the two writers, despite the fact that their strategies for narrating them are similar and are also similar to those of Pacheco: Libertella, I already said it, distance, first, making clear the autobiographical magma, which both Pacheco and Gamboa keep in the shadows, for his part, the Peruvian distances himself, making it clear that all personal history is also political, an issue that both Pacheco and Libertella keep more hidden, apart, well, among the most Latin American shadows of all: those of class and social differences, which is not that they do not assume, but that they do not turn into a theme.

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In this way, although both writers share coordinates with Pacheco, Libertella walks through another desert, a desert in which he finds himself, I already said, Levrero, and here he would come to be the one with the form, a form that is not afraid to mix genres and take them to their limits, while Gamboa fights another battle, a battle in which he could find himself, I also already said, with Jose Agustin, and that here would come to be the bottom, a bottom that is not afraid to cling to a single matter to take it to its ultimate consequences.

The result is two stupendous novels, two narratives, one on the fringes of the style, one in the very center of it, and two stories, one in which the recognition of the past makes the future possible and the other in which the future is only possible after the ignorance of the past.

In the end, as Pacheco wrote in The battles in the desert, without imagining that he would summarize the novels by Libertella and Gamboa: “love is fine, the only demonic thing is hate”.


an earlier future was published by Sexto Piso, while luminous animals by Random House Literature. The battles in the desert is in ERA edition and deserted cities in Debolsillo edition.

Source: EL PAIS


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