Money to Burn by Ricardo Piglia, trans. Amanda Hopkinson
The tragic, seamy underbelly of Buenos Aires
Friday 30 January 2004
Ricardo Piglia dominates Argentine writing. Born in 1941, he inherited Borges' suspicion of genre, his exploration of writing and reading - and his attraction to the seamy underbelly of Buenos Aires. Piglia's fictions are parables of creativity within the nightmare of his country's recent history. He offers brilliant off-the-cuff comments, has a vast knowledge of crime thrillers, and has re-jigged the Argentine literary tradition as urban and anarchic.
Yet his output is meagre and experimental. So it came as a surprise when he published this prize-winning recreation of the hold-up of a security van in Buenos Aires and a 15-hour shoot-out in Montevideo. Here was a thriller that had sprung from Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard, with respect for the locale, for the way his thugs talk, their weapons, their pasts.
Piglia combed police records, the press, psychiatric reports and witness statements. As in Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a journalist chronicles events that escape from hindsight. Renzi, this journalist, reappears from Piglia's earlier work and is insulted by the commissioner in charge of the case as a know-all, lacking respect, with his glasses and goose face - a mocking self-portrait of the writer.
The story follows a gang of cold-blooded killers, two of whom are called "the twins" as they are gay lovers. They almost get away with their booty, but trip up and shoot to the death in a flat in Montevideo.
These thugs imitate Hollywood films and childishly watch themselves on the news. However, Piglia is up to more than the clever weaving of a true-crime story. His epigraph is from Brecht: what's worse, to rob a bank, or to found one?
According to him, Buenos Aires lacks urban myths. The gauchos have become thugs who kill from stolen cars. His main character, the "Blond Gaucho" Dorda, is a secret hero, who burns the money snatched from the van. He is society's scapegoat, the idiot who suffers for others in an Argentine version of a Greek tragedy.
Given Argentine history, parallels can be drawn with the urban guerillas who raided banks and were decimated by the police and military in orgies of violence. Despite these reverberations, I found the novel sentimentalises these thugs. Amanda Hopkinson's translation deals well with Piglia's studied slang, and has useful notes.
The reviewer is professor of Spanish at UCL
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sainsbury's '50p challenge' poster telling staff to encourage customers to spend more placed in shop window instead of staff room
- 2 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 3 HeForShe campaign: Iceland to follow up Emma Watson speech with UN women's rights conference – for men only
- 4 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 5 Teenagers irritable because early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >