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Excerpt from "La Grande" by Juan Jose Saer

Steve Dolph’s translation of Juan Jose Saer’s massive La Grande won’t be available until next spring, but for those of you who can’t wait to sample what may well be his magnum opus, you can check out Two Lines for a long sample:

Tomatis continues: Mario Brando considered himself an experimentalist, but he was a barefaced bourgeoisie. According to Tomatis, he lived and thought like a bourgeoisie. He married the daughter of an ultra-Catholic conservative general, as opportunistic as himself, who changed his political position with every changing government or circumstance. Brando claimed he had combined poetry and science, but his values and his lifestyle were as traditional bourgeois as they come: he raised his daughters Catholic, and when they grew up he married them to navy officers. According to Tomatis, he never went to mass more than his social obligations demanded, but his wife and daughter attended the chic eleven o’clock mass every Sunday. His brother-in-law, according to Tomatis, was also in the military, and, like his father, gained the rank of general. Starting in the sixties, he’d often visited North American instructors in Panama, in Washington, at the School of the Americas. Because his entire career transpired in the shadow of General Negri, the celebrated torturer, he’d been given the nickname, even in certain military circles, of secondary anticommunist, in reference likewise to his subdued personality, a possible side effect of his alcoholism. And, Tomatis says, precisely because of all of this, he’d once been forced to ask Brando for a favor. Tomatis is quiet for a few seconds, remembering, reflecting maybe. Soldi’s, Violeta’s, and the others’ expressions have also turned solemn. Gabriela lowers her head, possibly so as not to have to look anyone in the eyes, or possibly in order to listen better to what she’s actually heard many times already, from Tomatis, from her parents, or old friends that Tomatis and her parents had in common: the story of the disappearance of El Gato Garay—Tomatis’s friend and Pichón’s twin brother—and Elisa, his lover for several years. She was more or less separated from her husband, who knew about the affair. And though she didn’t live with Gato all the time, she would spend her weekends with him, and sometimes, when she wasn’t busy with the children, whole weeks. El Gato spent practically all his time at the beach house in Rincón that had once been the Garay family’s weekend retreat. El Gato lived on almost nothing, odd jobs from friends mostly, enough for food, for drinks, and for tobacco. He left the town less and less frequently; it was extremely strange to see him in the city. When Elisa visited him, her black car would be parked for days without moving, gathering sandy dust. Every so often they’d walk through the town on their way to the grocery or to the butcher shop, otherwise they were always in the white house, which was starting to fall apart, or in the rear courtyard, which could have been cleaned more regularly. They were an unusual couple, polite but not very demonstrative, and at that time being even slightly different from the people around you who put you in danger for your life. (Someone once joked that they were kidnapped because they didn’t have a television.)

And to prepare for this, you really should buy and read The Sixty-Five Years of Washington and Scars.



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