Talking Location With author Daniella Bernett – MALTA
Ten Great Books set in Buenos Aires
15th January 2021
For the latest in our ‘Ten Great Books set in…” series we head to Buenos Aires. Ten Great books set in Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires is Argentina’s big, cosmopolitan capital city. Its center is the Plaza de Mayo, lined with stately 19th-century buildings including Casa Rosada, the iconic, balconied presidential palace. Other major attractions include Teatro Colón, a grand 1908 opera house with nearly 2,500 seats, and the modern MALBA museum, displaying Latin American art
‘Tener mala leche’ = to have bad milk – meaning to have bad luck. Argentinian saying.
The Secret in their Eyes by Eduardo Sacher
The novel that became the Oscar-winning film.
Benjamín Chaparro is a retired detective still obsessed by the brutal, decades-old rape and murder of a young married woman in her own bedroom. While attempting to write a book about the case, he revisits the details of the investigation. As he reaches into the past, Chaparro also recalls the beginning of his long, unrequited love for Irene Hornos, then just an intern, now a respected judge. Set in the Buenos Aires of the 1970s, Sacheri’s tale reveals the underpinnings of Argentina’s Dirty War and takes on the question of justice—what it really means and in whose hands it belongs.
The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
When Pepe Carvalho’s uncle asks him to find his son, in Buenos Aires, Pepe is reluctant. All he knows about Argentina is the tango and Maradona, and he has no desire to find out more. But family is family and soon Carvalho is in Buenos Aires, getting more caught up in Argentina’s troubled past than is good for anybody. As he gets nearer to finding the son, he begins to realise the full impact of the traumas caused by a military junta who went so far as to kidnap the children of the political activists they tortured. A few excellent tangos, bottles of Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon and a sexy semiotician are no compensation for the savage brutality Carvalho experiences in his attempt to come to grips with Argentina’s recent history.
The Tango Singer by Tómas Eloy Martinez
It is 2001, and inflation is spiraling out of control in Argentina as Bruno Cadogan, an American graduate student specializing in Borges, arrives in Buenos Aires. Cadogan is on the trail of Julio Martel, an elusive tango singer rumored to be even better than Carlos Gardel, the greatest singer of the 1920s and ’30s. Martel has never recorded and his strange, powerful performances, at seemingly arbitrary sites around the city, are always unannounced.
Cadogan finds lodging in a boarding house rumored to be the setting of the famous Borges story “The Aleph,” and soon finds himself drawn into the tangle of legends surrounding the singer’s life. As the economic tension grows and the city hovers on the verge of riots, Bruno begins to believe that Martel’s increasingly rare performances are in fact far from random—that they instead form a map of the darkest moments in the city’s past.
7 Ways to Kill a Cat by Matías Néspolo
Set in a shanty-town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, this fine first novel focuses on Gringo and Chueco, both 20, who live in an eternal present of hustling for food, sex, alcohol and drugs. Neither future nor past bears thinking about, an attitude borne out in the novel’s style and structure by Néspolo’s rapid, short sentences, use of the historic present and the constant movement of his characters.
In the 1950s, Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Ten years ago, its economy collapsed. The currency was worthless, jobs vanished and the poor starved, as Seven Ways to Kill a Cat, set in 2001, shows. In the background, demonstrators fight running battles with the police. In the foreground, drug-selling gangs clash to control the neighbourhood.
A Crack in the Wall by Claudia Pinero
Pablo Sim’s life is a mess. His career as an architect is at a dead-end: reduced to designing soulless office buildings desecrating the heart of Buenos Aires. His marriage seems to be one endless argument with his wife over the theatrics of their rebellious teenage daughter. Everything changes with the unexpected appearance of Leonor, a beautiful young woman living in the apartment of Nelso Jara, and a blackmailer who has been murdered and buried in the foundations of a building finished twenty years before.
The Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club by Jessica Morrison
28-year-old Cassie Moore has always played it safe, living life according to a meticulously organized Master Plan. But when she loses her Perfect Job and finds her fiancé in bed with his ex on the same day, it’s clear that The Plan has failed her. She awakens the next day from a drunken stupor to discover that she’s booked herself on a six-month trip to Buenos Aires. She speaks not a word of Spanish, but she’s already emailed the news to everyone she knows, so there’s no turning back. Once in Buenos Aires, Cassie is reluctantly seduced by this glorious city. Her exuberant landlady introduces her to the handsome but haughty Mateo, a man Cassie clashes with right from the start. She soon befriends other lovelorn travelers and together, they start “Brokenhearts Club” at a local bar, attracting a cast of characters that includes Dan, a sweet handsome man who lives as carefully and predictably as Cassie. Before long, Cassie’s making a new plan: 1. Learn Spanish. 2. Stop obsessing about impossible Mateo and fall for perfect-on-paper Dan. But staying on track isn’t so simple anymore and Cassie finally realizes that sometimes life–and love– defies her best-laid plans.
The Forget-Me-Not Sonata by Santa Montefiore
The Hurlingham Club in Buenos Aires is a little piece of England. Here Audrey Garnet grows up and loses her heart to Louis Forrester, a talented, troubled young man who sets tongues wagging with his eccentric behaviour and chequered past. But a family tragedy brings their romance to an abrupt end and Audrey, ever the dutiful daughter, thrills her parents by accepting Louis’s successful, respectable elder brother, Cecil, as her husband. It is a sacrifice she bitterly regrets, and despite the pleasures of family life and, in time, beloved daughters of her own, Audrey hears the sweet, plaintive notes of the forget-me-not sonata, which Louis had written for her years before, echo through the years as a reminder of the love that she has lost.
77 by Guillermo Saccomanno
Buenos Aires, 1977. In the darkest days of the Videla dictatorship, Gómez, a gay high-school literature teacher, tries to keep a low profile as one-by-one, his friends and students begin to disappear. When Esteban, one of Gómez’s favorite students, is taken away in a classroom raid, Gómez realizes that no one is safe anymore, and that asking too many questions can have lethal consequences. His life gradually becomes a paranoid, insomniac nightmare that not even his nightly forays into bars and bathhouses in search of anonymous sex can relieve. Things get even more complicated when he takes in two dissidents, putting his life at risk–especially since he’s been having an affair with a homophobic, sadistic cop with ties to the military government. Told mostly in flashbacks thirty years later, 77 is rich in descriptive detail, dream sequences, and even elements of the occult, which build into a haunting novel about absence and the clash between morality and survival when living under a dictatorship.
Borges and the Eternal Orangutans by Luís Fernando Verissimo
Vogelstein is a loner who has always lived among books. Suddenly, fate grabs hold of his insignificant life and carries him off to Buenos Aires, to a conference on Edgar Allan Poe, the inventor of the modern detective story.
There Vogelstein meets his idol, Jorge Luis Borges, and for reasons that a mere passion for literature cannot explain, he finds himself at the centre of a murder investigation that involves arcane demons, the mysteries of the Kabbala, the possible destruction of the world, and the Elizabethan magus John Dee’s ‘Eternal Orang-utan’, which would end up by writing all the known books in the cosmos.
Goodbye Buenos Aires by Andrew Graham-Yooll
Goodbye Buenos Aires” is a vivid and earthly celebration of Argentina, which chronicles the rise and fall of the British colony in the ’20s and ’30s through the imaginative biography of one of its charismatic representatives – a hard-drinking, womanising, emigre Scotsman, who cut his way through the bars and brothels of the city whilst trading with farmers up-country. It is also the portrait of an errant father by a son, a descriptive labour of love for Argentina by one of its leading writers and journalists.
We hope you enjoy the books we have selected for you in Buenos Aires!
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