5 Argentine Authors worth Reading that are not Borges

eterna cadencia

Eterna Cadencia Bookstore (Honduras 5574, Palermo) PH:aya padrón

If there’s something that Buenos Aires knows how to do, it’s books. The city is chock full with bookstores, publishing houses, readers and writers alike, and although Borges, and Cortázar are the names that usually come up when it comes to local lit, there is plenty more room to make on the bookshelf for Argentine writers. Below, a pick of five that are well worth the read, just as a starter.

Roberto Arlt: A contemporary to Borges, who belonged to the more “refined” Florida group of authors, Arlt was the greatest exponent of the antagonic Boedo literary group that wrote with more of a social focus. His novels, sometimes more straightforward, sometimes more complex, paint a gritty and unique picture of Buenos Aires and its strange characters.   His novels include Diary of a MorphimaniacMad Toy, Seven MadmenThe Flame-Throwers, and Bewitching Love.

Silvina OCampo: Another Borges contemporary, Silvina, sister to Victoria OCampo and wife of author Bioy Casares, wrote mostly short stories and poetry. She also studied painting and drawing and was one of the first Argentine women authors, alongside poet Alfonsina Storni and Alejandra Pizarnik, to receive recognition for her outstanding literary work. Her writing mostly fits into the fantastic and surreal, displays rich imagery and explores recurring themes related to childhood, mirrors and transformations. Some of her translated works include Thus Were Their Faces and Silvina OCampo (stories and poems) by Jason Weiss.

Rodolfo Fogwill: Sociology graduate and first a businessman, Fogwill began his writing career later on in life and was able to focus solely on it after his short story “Punk Girl” was awarded the first prize in a literary contest. His very famous and truly accomplished novel, Malvinas Requiem:Visions of an Underground War, was written while the war was going on, and rumor has it that it was written on a seventy two hour writing binge.

Juan José Saer: Atmospheres tainted by weather and landscapes contain the sinuous narratives that this master of the novel wrote during his life. Some of his works translated into English include: Shadows on Jeweled Glass, The Witness, The One Before, Nobody Nothing Never, and The Event.

Ricardo Piglia: Celebrated internationally, Piglia wrote short stories, essays and novels about truth and fiction, social and political issues as well as having been a well known literature professor both in Argentina and abroad. His novels include Artificial Respiration, The Absent City,  Burnt Money, Nocturnal Target and One Way Road. 

Buenos Aires Literaria

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(foto-Santi DeFerrol)

Esta noche se lleva a cabo la Noche de las Librerías con una oferta amplia de actividades literarias incluyendo charlas, lecturas, jams de poesía, música en vivo, cadáveres exquisitos y más (la programación entera se encuentra disponible aquí). Al fin y al cabo, Buenos Aires es una ciudad de lectores, lectoras, escritores y escritoras, por lo que suele haber una gran oferta de actividades literarias en la ciudad y también muchas y variadas librerías que vale la pena explorar.

La librería porteña más conocida es El Ateneo Grand Splendid sobre Avenida Santa Fé, considerada una de las más bellas del mundo. Otras en Palermo, como Dain Usina Cultural, Libros del Pasaje y Eterna Cadencia, son espacios ideales para mirar libros y para sentarse a tomar un café, mientras que la librería Alamut comparte espacio con Autre Monde donde también se puede conseguir buen vino. Son conocidas también las librerías de la Avenida Corrientes y los puestitos de libros usados cerca de Plaza Italia.

Otra opción para explorar el lado literario de Buenos Aires es hacer un tour con Lara Mirkin. El tour que ofrece incluye la lectura de un cuento escrito por un autor local, y luego la exploración de los espacios propios del cuento y del autor en la ciudad, así como también una pausa en uno de los tradicionales cafés porteños. Los tours se ofrecen en inglés o español y deben reservarse con anticipación, más información aquí.

La Biblioteca Nacional, y el Museo del Libro y de la Lengua, ambos en Recoleta, además de la Villa OCampo a las afueras de la ciudad, son lugares que también albergan historia literaria local, y que además ofrecen actividades vinculadas a la literatura.

Sin dudas que la mejor manera de conocer la literatura argentina es leyendo. Si bien los nombres más comúnmente evocados son los de Borges y Cortázar, la oferta es bastante más amplia y hay mucha literatura local que vale la pena conocer. Se sugieren algunos autores aquí y en la publicación The Buenos Aires Review se incluyen artículos de literatura argentina y latinoamericana en inglés y en español.


Argentine Poetry: Evaristo Carriego

(Photo by stevegarfield)

Evaristo Carriego made a brief transit through the city of Buenos Aires, having died young at the age of 29 in 1912. He was a modernist poet from Entre Ríos who published works in some of the most renowned literary magazines of the day, inspired tangos and also, a biography written by Borges. Because of his early death, he published few poetry books: Misas herejes, published in 1908 and the later El alma del suburbio and La canción del barrio, which were published after his death and draw upon local topics such as tango, the barrio and city cafés.

Check out this beautiful performance by tango dancers Carlos Gavito and Marcela Durán of A Evaristo Carriego, a famous tango written by Eduardo Rovira.

And Milonga Carrieguera, composed by Astor Piazzolla.

Early 20th Century Argentine Art

At the beginning of the twentieth century Argentina was very prolific. It had finished with the independence and civil wars that had characterized the nineteenth century and had began building a new society. Large waves of European immigration continued to flock into the country, and the search for a common identity was in full swing. Additionally, the country was establishing its agricultural sector in the Pampas and becoming a major exporter. The advancements in cold storage, the different ports, and the railway were important features of the two defining aspects of the country, European immigration and the agricultural model. From the 30’s onwards, the country entered a period of economic and political unrest followed by military dictatorships, Peronism and more, that were to influence society and the content of many artists work.

The early 1900´s were very significant in terms of cultural production. It was during this period that tango began to develop, and that the Florida group, the Boedo group and La Boca group were created. The first was characterized for paying special attention to style and looking to incorporate innovative vanguard uses of technique. Its members, including Jorge Luis Borges, Antonio Berni, Emilio Pettorutti and Xul Solar, amongst others, were from the upper classes and they regularly met at the Richmond Café on Florida Street (which has recently been closed down).  The Boedo group, which stood out more for its literature than its visual arts, was more interested in incorporating vanguard themes, generally from a left wing point of view.  Its most well known member was author Roberto Arlt.  Finally, La Boca group was made up of mostly Italian immigrants and developed a unique style with common themes being the port, the workers and immigrant neighborhoods.  It is amongst this last group that Benito Quinquela Martín is associated with.  Other important artists at the time were Fernando Fader, Raul Soldi who belonged to the Pintura Sensible tradition and Medardo Pantoja who portrayed the indigenous people, amongst many others.

Antonio Berni is one of Argentina’s most emblematic artists. He was a painter, an illustrator and an engraver and was influenced by the European cubists, surrealists and Dadaists. His style was mainly surrealist with an important social thematic that later developed into his defining style, Social Realism. He was also increasingly active from the thirties onwards as crises and political unrest took over the country. Amongst his most well known works are Desocupado, the Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel series, and one of the cupolas of the now Galerias Pacifico. A few of his paintings are displayed at the Muséo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the MALBA and Muséo de Artes Plásticas Eduardo Sivori.

(Manifestación, Antonio Berni, photo by Carlos Adampol)

Emilio Pettoruti was strongly influenced by cubism, futurism and abstract art. His first exhibit in the twenties caused a scandal as his art was nothing like the painting the locals were used to at the time about local customs and manners. He was interested in movement, light, technique and color and his painting were precise and geometric tending towards abstraction in his later work.  Many of his paintings can be found at the Muséo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

(Photo by Iliazd)

Xul Solar was a quirky and colorful character whose art reflected his interest in astrology, mythology and religion. His style resembles Paul Klee’s and he is considered to be a surrealist by some and a fantasy artist by others. He also invented a language and all sorts of games which he used to play with his friends, including Jorge Luis Borges who some point out as his literary parallel. The Xul Solar museum in Palermo displays many of his paintings and colorful inventions.

(Xul Solar, photo by the Wide Wide World)

Benito Quinquela Martin is an emblematic Argentine artist and is synonymous to La Boca. His colorful paintings of La Boca port have earned him international acclaim, and he is remembered locally for having founded the Pedro de Mendoza museum-school in La Boca with the profit he made from his paintings.  He himself was a port worker and was a self- taught artist.  He also popularized the use of bright colors for the facade of houses, which is one of the characteristics of the La Boca neighborhood even today. The Quinquela Martin museum in La Boca displays a large collection of his work.

( Photo by Pipistrula)

Read more about Argentine Art:

Argentine Pre Hispanic and Colonial Art

Nineteenth Century Argentine Art

Art Museums in Buenos Aires

Emblematic Argentine Literature

(Photo by Greh Fox)

The starting point of Argentine literature can be traced back to the 1800’s when the country began to establish itself and cultural identity was needed. It was during this period that gauchesque literature became popular and “Martin Fierro” (1872) by Jose Hernandez was the most emblematic work to come from it. The epic poem (considered by Borges to be a versed novel) was written in the voice of a poor gaucho who deserts the army in the historical war in Patagonia against the native Indians.  The style imitates the Gaucho payadas (ballads) and is a pinnacle of national cultural identity, as it explores some of the local imagery and historical events of the time, and also a general feeling of destituteness, which the immigrant community could identify with.

Another emblematic book that deals with the theme of national identity, political and geographic context and the gaucho lifestyle is “Facundo: Civilización y Barbarie”(1845), written by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento who was president from 1868 – 1874. The book is divided into a description of Argentine geography and history,the life of caudillo Facundo Quiroga and a conclusion of his vision for a Unitarian Argentina. As the title suggests, it deals with the clash of civilization and barbary, each associated with different political ideologies of the time.

Finally, “Don Segundo Sombra”(1926), written by ‘estanciero’ Ricardo Güiraldes, explores the gaucho legend through the eyes of a young farm worker who grows up next to a gaucho he idealizes.

Some years later, Jorge Luis Borges, who was part of the Grupo Martín Fierro that experimented with the vanguard’s uses of language, took up a lot of the imagery and topics from gauchesque literature and included them in famous stories such as “El Sur”, and “El Fin”, both present in one of his most famous books, “Ficciones” (1944). Another of the most renowned literary works by this celebrated author is “El Aleph” (1949), a compilation of stories belonging to the fantasy genre that deal with themes such as time, identity, dreams, myths and the infinite. Borges’s friend, Adolfo Bioy Casares, also explored the fantasy genre receiving great recognition for his sci-fi novel “La Invención de Morel” (1940) about a man who escapes to an Island and then realizes he is submerged in a virtual world invented by Morel. The novel is said to have inspired Alain Resnais’s “Last Year in Marienbad” and the popular TV series “Lost”.

The Boedo Group is generally described as opposing the Grupo Martín Fierro. Although they were also followers of the European vanguards, the Boedo group had a much grittier style, and was less aristocratic. Its most prominent author was Roberto Arlt who really captured the Buenos Aires city energy using a lot of the local jargon in his novels, the most renowned being  “El Juguete Rabioso” (1926), about a high school drop out who searches for opportunities to be somebody, and his masterpiece “Los Siete Locos” (1929) which explores existentialist philosophy, anguish and desolation.

The famous “El Túnel” (1948) by Ernesto Sabato, also brings up existentialist themes, and is about an obsessed painter that deals with alienation and incommunication. Sabato’s later novel, “Sobre Heroes y Tumbas” (1961), is his most acclaimed work and is accepted by some as the best Argentine novel of the twentieth century. It explores Argentine identity and politics and makes a unique description of Buenos Aires’s urban landscape.

Contemporary to Sábato is another Argentine literary giant, the well known Julio Cortazar, often associated with Surrealism, and known for his ambiguous stories where time and space blur. His most famous work, “Rayuela” (1963), can be read in different orders; in the customary front to back manner, in a suggested order by the author, or as the reader pleases. The narrative line in this sense is not fixed and implies openness to alternative realities.

Although literature was generally considered to belong to the man’s world there was also a strong feminine influence in modern Argentine literature, especially in the realm of poetry. Some of the most famous names include Alfonsina Storni, Silvina Ocampo and her sister, Victoria Ocampo, who was the founder of Sur magazine where many respected local authors published their works. Further back in time, authors Manuela Gorriti, Juana Manso and Eduarda Mansilla (amongst others), also contributed to the local literary scene.