Guillermo Orsi: The crime novel boom is more of a marketing operation than a reality

(By Carlos Aletto) The “Holy City” that gives the title to Guillermo Orsi’s story is a mirage, a cardboard scarecrow exposed to be visited by tourists from the provinces and, above all, a debt paid by the writer, who since that began with the crime novel owed Buenos Aires a fiction that had it as its protagonist, a task that it achieves with this book without falling into any of the stereotypes that narratively build the Argentine metropolis.

The novel now published by Tusquets obtained in 2009 the prestigious Hammett Prize granted by the Black Week of Gijón, an award that Claudia Piñeiro has just obtained for “Cathedrals”. In this story, the writer born in Buenos Aires in 1946 shows how every megalopolis is violent. Orsi points out that for the city to grow it needs to expel, “reproduce on the margins, in tumor growths such as the Riachuelo fair or the grotesque of the Holy Land on Costanera Norte.”

Author of “El wagón de los locos”, “Crewmembers of an old bolero”, “Dog dreams” and “Gold diggers”, with “Nobody loves a policeman” he won the II City of Carmona International Noir Prize and with “Ghosts of the Desert” he was a finalist for the Hammett Prize. His work has been translated into English, French, German, Greek, and Chinese.

“The crime novel boom is more of a marketing operation than a reality in Argentina. It is enough to consult with booksellers and publishers, coffee through and away from microphones, to have a discouraging outlook, even before the pandemic. writing and sometimes publishing is part of an essential cultural resistance so that the real power, that which needs to flatten brains, does not dislodge the imagination “, he says in an interview with Télam.

– Télam: Can it be said that your novel, deep down, also explores the idea of ​​the existence of God?

– Guillermo Orsi: I was educated in the cinema of Ingmar Bergman, tireless seeker of God in the icy settings of his native country, when I was a teenager and Swedish films were prohibited for those under 18 and mutilated by censorship. God should exist only to torment us enough to wonder if he is real or the result of a self-induced obsession.

Its existence is an aesthetic challenge, rather than a philosophical one, at least for the novelists who trace their tracks in hallucinatory characters like the “Holy City” head collector.

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Evangelizers say that God is love. Perhaps and to challenge so much pride, I face it by writing stories of a love that has little to do with God despite its claim to transcend death. But to the real, definitive death, not the one who pretends to die in order to resurrect each year in ceremonies of praise and denial. My characters fight a duel in manifest inferiority of conditions, against those ghosts of the impossible.

T .: What is the metaphor of the tourist cruise ship stranded in the Río de La Plata?

GO: Liberal politicians insist that, under popular governments that they pejoratively call “populist”, Argentina closes itself off from the world. During the last decade of the 20th century, under a Peronist government that to achieve and increase its power became liberal, our country opened up to the world in such a way that it ended up auctioning off its public companies at a vile price to maintain the fiction of a local currency. as strong as the US dollar.

When the house of cards collapsed in 2001, foreign tourism invaded our beaches. That the cruise ship “Queen of Storms” ran aground in the mud of the Río de la Plata was a modest landing in Normandy, with passengers who, faced with the compulsory eviction of the ship, face a third world reality that contradicts the promises of the brochures promoting Buenos Aires like the Paris of South America.

The intervention of European ambassadors, in the emergency posed by the novel, is a kind of inevitable grotesque, which perhaps reveals my adolescent love not only for Bergman’s cinema but also for Italian neorealism, the exquisite imagery of Fellini and the theater of Armando. Discépolo.

– T .: Is there a sociological work in the gaze of the foreigner, more specifically, of the tourist on Argentina?

– GO: I don’t think the average foreign tourist has the slightest idea about the meaning of what we call Argentinity. And in any case, it is difficult to perceive it visiting waterfalls and glaciers, a sort of tourist sauna to which the itineraries of the agencies subject them.

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The tango of the firulete for export, the pirouettes of the southern whale in Puerto Madryn and the occasional pan over slums in limousines will be the postcards that they will collect mostly.

The foreign gaze is more a fantasy of our need to be identified as different, as “non-Latin Americans”, so as not to be confused with those who, whether we like it or not -and many do not like it-, are our “compatriots from the great homeland “. That is why I distrust a crime novel restricted to the Buenos Aires, to the strictly urban, and that is why in previous works I took my characters for a walk through landscapes far from the port, even through jungle regions of the north, with the risk or the exciting temptation of that those characters, when they return to Buenos Aires – if they return – are no longer the same.

If every novel is a journey, let’s not forget that the winners of Cortázar’s “Los Premios” get on a cruise ship with an uncertain destination, with a disturbing stern and a passenger who goes deep into the depths of the night sky. When I start a novel, I don’t know which cruise ship I’m getting on, I don’t know the destination even though it convinces me that I need to get to a port, any port, to step on the mainland. A claim that is often frustrated, by the difficulties of continuing to travel or by the attraction – sometimes fatal – of finally reaching the unknown like someone who returns home tired after a day’s work.

-T .: How does the Argentine history emerge from the background in your novel?

-GO: The story is not finished, it grows like weeds, like weeds, no defoliant can with it. Although we do not want to write about the dictatorship and the Malvinas, the disappeared, those killed in combat and the suicides coexist, they breathe on my neck. There is no use locking myself in the ivory tower. In my case, survivors or ghosts from yesterday filter into the gloom, draw curtains, force me to look at them in the face and blind me if I do not negotiate their participation, always minimal but forceful, in a plot too vulnerable to ignore.

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Faced with the Dantesque landscape of the Conadep report (the “Never again”), all criminal fiction in Argentina seems like the brushstroke of a corpse connected to electrical cables, an artist by external impulses, forced to emulate stories written in remote regions, adapting them ” to the local reader. ” Like the dubbing of movies on TV, the language becomes contaminated and the characters look disoriented, amnesiac, born of multimedia test tubes. Avoiding this contamination, walking through the mud and sinking our faces into the stench of graves opened by memory, is part of our condition as “genre authors”.

Black shines with its own (red) light in the pages of the savage capitalism of underdevelopment, the dead speak in a language far removed from speeches, they speak without a voice, they speak in forensic reports and in the promises of point-blank order, so frequent in political campaigns.

-T .: How did the female construction of the characters Miss Bolivia and the lawyer Verónica work?

-GO: The woman as a character is a whole theme of the crime novel, enhanced these days by the overwhelming and so necessary advance of feminism. Of course, all this happens outside the creative process, “on the street.” As an author, that exteriority cannot and should not condition what comes out of my guts – my brain. If I stick to my social and / or political convictions, Miss Bolivia and Verónica would be two victims, uncontaminated by contradictions and subject to the machista whim and the harshness of the environment in which they move. They are, in part, but far from “politically correct.” The South African beauty queen is in any case emergent from a system, the same as Verónica. The opportunity they give me – not the one I supposedly give them – is to express their own storms, to stage their existential despair. Thrown into the ring of the plot, they play their own Russian roulettes, in the vertigo of a free fall that will only find its limit – doom or heroic rescue – if the author reacts in time and accepts that no reality, not even that of his novel, is what it looks like.


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