Obituary: Osvaldo Soriano

Osvaldo Soriano was the leading literary figure to come out of the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s. From journalism and high-profile writing in Jacobo Timerman's newspaper La Opinin, he was forced into exile, and into fiction.

He had written fiction and been published before he fled to France, then Belgium, where he met his wife, and then Spain, after the March 1976 coup, but it was exile that forced him to be a novelist. Writing and soccer were his two great passions, and it is difficult to guess which had the edge on the other. In exile he wrote for El Pas, in Madrid, and Le Figaro, in Paris.

English readers know him through his novel Funny Dirty Little War published in translation by Nick Caistor in 1983. The book, an outrageously funny, and at the same terribly tragic, description of rival groups within Pernism vying for party supremacy and trying to interpret the late General Juan Pern either as "revolutionary" or as a Third World leader, when he was neither. The novel was made into a film in Argentina in the mid-1980s and delighted the small English audiences that saw it at the ICA.

Soriano returned to Buenos Aires from exile just as soon as constitutional rule was restored, and joined the then newly launched Pagina 12 newspaper, a left-of-centre daily which gathered among its contributors some of the talent that had worked on La Opinin. Soccer remained to the end his favourite topic in his columns.

His shiny bald patch above an impish grin and a trim beard made him a familiar figure at book fairs and a carefully chosen number of social events. It was a joke among friends and colleagues that any meeting needing his presence had to be held in late evening for he slept much of the day and worked through the night. In December 1995 he and 23 others founded an association of independent journalists, Periodistas, which had as its mission to campaign against restrictions against the press. But he seldom attended meetings, complaining that, at three in the afternoon, they were too early.

His novels not in English include a blistering sneer at the military in Cuarteles de invierno ("Winter Quarters"), a post-military exploration of Argentina in Una sombra Ya pronto sers ("Soon You Will Be No More than a Shadow"; also filmed) and A sus pies rendido un len ("At His Feet a Lion Surrendered"), a line from Argentina's national anthem. All of these were set in post-dictatorship Argentina, showing a society struggling with its memories and trying to come to terms with half a century of authoritarian rule. His last two books broke with that line in Ia hora sin sombra ("The Hour Without Shade") and Pirates, Spooks and Dinosaurs.

Andrew Graham-Yooll

Osvaldo Soriano, writer and journalist, born Mar del Plata, Argentina 1943; married 1978 Catherine Brucher (one son); died Buenos Aires 29 January 1997.

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