A Conversation with Manuel Puig By Jorgelina Corbatta (Translated and adapted by Ilan Stavans)

From “The Review of Contemporary Fiction,” Fall 1991, Vol. 11.3

This interview with Manuel Puig took place during a weekend in September 1979, after he was part of a Congress of Hispanic-American Writers in Medellin, Colombia. Other participants in the event were Camilo Jose Cela, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature, and the Mexican short-story writer and novelist Juan Rulfo.

JC: What role does the reader play in your work? Are you aware of a future reader when you write a novel? Has the reader’s taste ever influenced the way you constructed a book?

MP: Whenever I write, I’m always thinking of the reader. I write for somebody who has my own limitations. My reader has a certain difficulty with concentrating, which in my case comes from being a film viewer. That’s why I don’t request any special efforts in the act of reading.

JC: But don’t you think that those sudden changes, the art of narrating two stories simultaneously, or the same story from different perspectives …

MP: Indeed, I ask for reflection, but that is entirely another type of mental operation. What I find very difficult is to follow a certain prose that doesn’t have a plot line and reiterates the same idea every other page.

JC: I still think that, although the basic elements in your stories are easy to understand, putting the pieces together is a complex act. Some examples: the internal monologues in Betrayed by Rita Hayworth; the intertwined detective clues in The Buenos Aires Affair; the relationship between the films described and the characters’ fantasies in Kiss of the Spider Woman; or Ana’s double personality in Pubis Angelical I believe …

MP: I don’t mean to say that I write for a stupid reader. Yet tardiness in literature can make me nervous.

JC: Proust, for instance.

MP: That’s not an adequate example.

JC: Who then?

MP: Well, a few early twentieth-century Spanish novels. Jose Maria de Pereda, for instance. Furthermore, I have written every single one of my novels to convince somebody of something. Betrayed by Rita Hayworth was written to convince a friend of something. And Heartbreak Tango, to convince an enemy of mine, an Argentine critic who thoroughly disliked the popular genres (detective fiction, romance literature, the folletin, etc.) that one could write …

JC: Book reviewers, it is known, evidenced a similar kind of distaste for Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, didn’t they?

MP: No, no. My first two novels came out almost simultaneously, because Betrayed by Rita Hayworth took a long time to be published. No. I felt that particular kind of rejection when I arrived in Argentina and sensed a certain pedantry, a taste very different from mine. That stimulated me. But going back to the question of the reader, you asked me if my reader’s taste has ever conditioned one of my novels. No, in no way. The book that was most greatly appreciated by my readership was Heartbreak Tango. And everybody expected that I would follow that same narrative line. Yet I changed because I was interested in another type of investigation, and that’s why I wrote The Buenos Aires Affair. The reception given to this book was comparatively mild, but I felt I had done something good. Even today, I don’t dislike the novel. On the contrary, in some way I would like to follow the path initiated by it.

JC: And that path is …

MP: And that path is a study of the Argentine mistake.

JC: What kind of mistake?

MP: A political mistake, a sexual mistake.

JC: And what about the book reviewers?

MP: Book reviews have never helped me. On the contrary, I believe most of them erred in their interpretations and their work has been a waste of time, that’s all.

JC: But … do you read what they write? Do they interest you?

MP: Yes, yes, of course. Nevertheless, I haven’t been the kind of writer about whom book-length academic studies have been written. Only now some of them are beginning to emerge.* Unfortunately, the criticism that has appeared so far is of the kind included in literary supplements, newspapers—brief, opinionated texts written under a deadline.

 

 

*Since the time this conversation took place, five academic books have appeared: Rend Alberto Campos’s El juego de espejos: La textura cinematica en “La tracion de Rita Hayworth “de Manuel Puig (Pliegos, 1983), Roberto Echavarren Welker’s Manuel Puig: montaje y alteriadad del sujeto (Instituto Profesional del Pacifico, 1986), Lucille Kerr’s Suspended Fictions: Reading Novels by Manuel Puig (Univ. Of Illinois, 1987), Jorgelina Corbatta’s Mito personal y mitos colectivos en las novelas de Manuel Puig (Oasis, 1988), and Pamela Bacarisse’s The Necessary Dream: A Study of the Novels of Manuel Puig (Barnes & Noble, 1988). [Editor’s Note]

 

 

JC: These book reviews, have they examined the psychoanalytical ingredient in your oeuvre?

MP: I don’t know, I wouldn’t be able to say. But the reviewers have not helped me to clarify things.

JC: And friends have?

MP: Yes, very much.

JC: It is known that Guillermo Cabrera Infante actively participated in the English and French translations of Three Trapped Tigers (although he fought against the French translator, who used to tell him, Ca, c’est ne pas francais). In general, the difficulties in translating a book are many, and I guess even more when it’s written in “Argentine” Spanish.

MP: I do collaborate a lot with the translators of those languages I am familiar with—English, French, Italian, and Portuguese. Let me give you an example in which I had to do some necessary changes. A chapter in Heartbreak Tango is resolved in the Spanish original through a reading of tarot cards performed by a gypsy. Nevertheless, in France and Great Britain, this special type of Spanish cards is not known. So I had to rewrite the segment. I had to transform everything, to adapt the images to a poker game. It was a deliberate act of rewriting. And there are many more examples like this one. More than anywhere else, I had to rewrite a lot in Kiss of the Spider Woman. And as you well know, translating theater is a very difficult task. It’s not only a matter of changing words; you have to adapt the meaning from one language into another. That’s why in the United States people never say “This is a translation of the work of such and such playwright or dramaturge, ” but “An English adaptation … or an English version, of the works of such and such playwright.” A different thing happened with Italian, which is so similar to Spanish. French is less so, and English is very different, so I had much to change. The translator’s task is to create, in his or her own language, the same tensions appearing in the original. That’s hard!

JC: I would like to know who has been a literary model for you. We know quite a bit about your passion for cinema, as well as for boleros and tangos, yet we know very little about your literary preferences. The Spanish poet Pere Gimpferrer, in an article published in 1976 in Plural, the Mexican magazine then edited by Octavio Paz, claimed that “without any doubt, Puig owes little, not only to his immediate literary precursors, but to any other literary tradition in general.” What do you think?

MP: I don’t have traceable literary models because I haven’t had great literary influences in my life. Instead, that space has been occupied by cinematographic influences. I believe that if you looked into it deeply, you could find an influence by Ernest Lubitch in a few of my structures, by Joseph von Sternberg in the need for a certain atmosphere. Also Alfred Hitchcock. Otherwise … I don’t know. Of the modern writers, I like William Faulkner and Franz Kafka very much. Yet that doesn’t mean I have read them in an exhaustive or passionate fashion.

JC: And why do you like them? Because of their atmospheres? Because of their themes? Their technique?

MP: I like the beauty of Faulkner’s poetry. But I don’t like his themes, not at all.

JC: The monologues in As I Lay Dying, were they ever a model for you?

MP: I never read the book. I had to open it this year because I was teaching a course at City College of New York and a young female student talked about it.

JC: And Kafka?

MP: Well, I think he truly illustrates the way the environment oppresses the individual. Also, he shows how the unconscious controls our lives. And he talks about the internal prisons we carry inside. But contrary to what Kafka does, I always like to refer all of my fictions to the level of reality, He, on the other hand, leaves them at an imaginary level.

JC: There’s another aspect on which critics do not agree: Either you have a parodic voice, or you personally share the universe in which your characters live. What could you say in this respect?

MP: I don’t have a parodic voice. Sometimes I use humor because otherwise my themes would be too bitter, too wretched. They would end up being dry. My stories are very somber, so I think I need the comic ingredient. Besides, life has so much humor, doesn’t it? And although it’s hard to believe it, Argentines are humorous too. I don’t think humor is forced upon my universe; it’s a part of it. And going back to the question of parody. For me, parody means mockery, and I don’t mock my characters. I share with them a number of things, among them their language and their taste.

JC: In an imaginary report for Elle, Gladys, the protagonist of The Buenos Aires Affair, offers her own concept of art: “That night I felt lonelier than ever. Imprisoned by despair I returned to the cottage and, almost crazed, I had an inspiration. I couldn’t sleep. At five the dawn found me on the beach, for the first time picking up the debris that the surf had left on the sand. Flotsam, I only dared to love flotsam, anything else was too much to dare hope for. I returned home and began to talk—in a whisper so as not to wake up mama—with a discarded slipper, with a bathing cap in shreds, with a torn piece of newspaper, and I started to touch them and to listen to their voices. That was my work of art, to bring together scorned objects to share with them a moment of life, or life itself. That was my work.” What do you think?

MP: I totally share that attitude. I have the same approach to objects, and I can identify with her misery.

JC: Let’s continue with The Buenos Aires Affair. I would like you to talk about the last chapter, in which you introduce that young couple with a small child. They are happy and satisfied. It seems that these characters are trying to balance the frustrations of the rest of the novel’s cast. A sort of happy ending, isn’t it?

MP: All through her life, the protagonist has managed to survive by creating a set of different personal fantasies. And this set has now been demolished. She will try to commit suicide at a time when nothing can be sustained or redeemed in her life. And it’s in that moment when she has a new fantasy. She is awakened by that young couple with child who inhabits the apartment next door. Gladys, as you know, lives through mythical images. She needs those strange fantasies, and even more so during this critical moment, when she has to create new myths.

JC: When I read the novel, I saw them as a set of “real” characters with which Gladys could initiate some kind of communication …

MP: The most important thing is that she can recover from her trance. I give two versions about the couple: the first one is Gladys’s elaborate fantasy; the second, a real version, is the one the two members of the couple are sharing while trying to achieve a perfect sexual intercourse. The woman is not what Gladys imagines. She is not a creature suspended in a space of total pleasure. Instead, she is somebody with fears. And one of those fears is the possibility of losing something. I believe that people who don’t achieve anything in life are isolated and resent those that are successful. Gladys has nothing and that circumstance creates in her a deep anxiety. The woman next door is also anxious, but for other reasons. Mainly, because she is afraid of losing what she already has. I was interested in making my protagonist not give up. Even if she was a weak character full of insecurities and a lack of affection, I wanted her to resurrect.

JC: You wanted to offer an optimistic tone.

MP: Well, Gladys couldn’t be worse. If she could only overcome her trance, her redemption could take place.

JC: What could you say about the inclusion of Esther and Cobito in your first novel? Putting aside the autobiographical element, is this a device by which you tried to incorporate all segments of the Argentine society?

MP: Including Cobito and a Peronist girl in the novel was not an attempt to portray the whole Argentine society. It’s based on my own personal experience. For the first part of my life, I had been submerged in the reality of the first Peronist regime, and later on in that of the second and third.

JC: You were talking about your work and the collective unconscious …

MP: I always talk about my preoccupations with the contents of the collective unconscious. Of course I am also worried by the unconscious that is not shared with others, yet I suppose there’s a great part of my own unconscious that is collective. And if I can locate the contents of this collective heritage and write about it, I’ll be able to capture the reader’s attention, because he or she and I will share the same commonalities. But it’s my own personal unconscious that ultimately creates the novel’s aesthetic facade. I think that the author’s originality depends on how he or she can make the personal unconscious express itself …

JC: Why do you think Carlos Fuentes, Luis Rafael Sanchez, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and Severo Sarduy all introduce elements from mass media in their oeuvres, just as you do? Do you share something with them?

MP: I share with them certain preoccupations, true, yet my style is very different from Fuentes’s, and I don’t have anything in common with Sarduy, Cabrera Infante, or Sanchez.

JC: With whom do you share a style?

MP: Sorry, but I don’t know much about literature.

JC: And in film?

MP: In film I believe I have certain affinities with Dishonored by von Sternberg, made in 1932, with Marlene Dietrich. Whenever I see this movie, I think, “Wow, there’s a lot I share with it.”

JC: What kind of connection is there between your work and pop art, kitsch, and camp?

MP: I am very interested in what has been called “bad taste.” I believe that the fear of displaying a soi-disant bad taste stops us from venturing into special cultural zones, some of which are even beyond bad taste. I am very interested in those areas and I allow my intuition to lead my path toward them. For instance, in the gruesomeness of certain tangos I see the possibility of a different kind of poetry. I am also attracted to the excessive sentimentalism of a certain kind of cinema. I wonder, what’s beyond that? What kind of audience uses these products? What kind of intellectual or intuitive need is satisfied with this type of “culture”? Yes, I’m interested in exploring the different manifestations of bad taste. But of course, not with a cold approach. I am only interested in bad taste if I can enjoy a gruesome tango or watch a movie that makes me cry.

JC: Are you also interested in boleros?

MP: Yes…. For instance, the kitsch of the boleros by Agustin Lara. They touch me deeply…. If we only laugh at them and we don’t take them seriously, I feel we’ve lost something. I think I’m satisfied by other kinds of needs than those that attract the intellectual elite. What are they? Do other people share them as well? Perhaps. We should try to understand these innermost needs. And we shouldn’t use irony to reduce their power.

JC: We know a lot about how film helped you evade reality in your adolescent years. But what could you say about how some filmmaking techniques are used in your novels?

MP: In The Buenos Aires Affair, there was a chapter, one that later on was eliminated, in which you could see the cinematic influences in a very clear fashion. It dealt with the protagonist’s mother, a demanding and indoctrinating woman who unconsciously wants her daughter to die and stop creating problems, stop suffering. Of course, she can’t make that authentic feeling conscious because it doesn’t go with her education. Yet when the daughter disappears, I wanted her to have an unconscious desire never to see her again. But it’s her daughter after all, and a mother like her can’t wish her daughter to die, can she? The woman couldn’t allow herself to feel such a horrible thing. In this chapter, I wanted to show the ambiguity of her feelings. I thought of doing so with the help of an omniscient, third-person narrator. It had to be a mischievous third-person narrator, not a subjective one. You see, only after remembering a certain camera angle used by Hitchcock, could I find the proper voice for my scene. It was in Psycho. The first scene, as you remember, has two secret lovers in a hotel room. It’s a small room and we see them always through the strange camera eye. Located in the closet or outside the window, it’s a camera that spies on them. Hitchcock makes it very clear to us that there’s nobody else in the room, only the two lovers. So it’s not a criminal or a spy who’s observing them but the strange, “spying” camera. Hence, there’s an objective and a subjective camera, like there’s a third- and a first-person narrator in literature. In my text, I had to deal with evil—the evil feelings felt by this mother, who’s unable to rationalize her own malevolent feelings and turns them into an occult element in her mind. I had to use a third- person narrator with a wretched voice, one that could find pleasure in the mother’s negative feelings. In that sense, the third-person narrator became a first-person narrator, a devil of sorts that, because of the book’s internal economy, never appears again.

JC: Why have you abandoned your fictitious town, Coronel Vallejos? I’m asking you while thinking of other imaginary places, like Yoknapatawpha, Santa Maria Macondo ..

MP: I felt I had talked about it enough. I lived there until I was fifteen and never returned again. If I had returned, things would have been different.

JC: One of the constants in modern literature is the structural playfulness. Do you share …

MP: Yes, I am interested in that but only to help me solve a certain mystery. I don’t feel attracted to it when the exercise is an end in itself.

JC: What do you think about Severo Sarduy’s essay “Notes to the Notes to the Notes . . .”? [See World Literature Today 65.4 (Fall 1991).]

MP: I don’t think it can help understand my work. It has charm but the piece tells more about its author than about me.

JC: Why do you write novels?

MP: I write novels because there is something I don’t understand in reality. What I do is locate that special problem in a character and then try to understand it. That’s the genesis of all my work. Because of my unconscious defenses, I am incapable of facing the problem directly. There are obstacles that impede me from doing so. Yet I can do it through a literary character. It’s easier! And since all of my problems are rather complicated, I need an entire novel to deal with them, not a short story or a movie. It’s like a personal therapy. There is no freedom in that election. It’s not that I choose to do it, but that I’m forced to. It has to be a novel because I need a lot of space. It’s an analytical activity, not a synthetic one.

JC: Do you support yourself from writing?

MP: Yes, I’m not a best-seller but through translations, I’ve accumulated some money. I would very much like to become a best-selling author in order to tell everything about it later on.

JC: But you don’t support yourself from any activity other than literature?

MP: No. I began teaching in New York because I needed to stay in the United States and didn’t have my immigration papers in order, so working for a university was a way of resolving the issue. It was a surprise because, after doing it, I found that I actually enjoyed it. What I did was teach a creative writing course, and since this course met only once a week, it was convenient. It doesn’t take too much time. It’s a good distraction, and I am in contact with young people, which is very gratifying. Writing film scripts, an activity I just began doing, distracts me as well. A novel can take two or three years in the making, so it’s convenient to put one’s mind in another project, especially in a film that can be written so quickly …

JC: Tell me something about writing film scripts.

MP: First, you have to think of a plot line that could be narrated in cinematic terms. If you’re adapting, then you have to summarize. There’s an interesting thing going on here. I’m not interested in a realistic cinema because I believe realism is nothing but an analysis of reality. Film scripts have a synthetical constitution. Why does realistic cinema lose its effectiveness as years go by? Why does it age? And why does the Hollywood cinema of the thirties and forties still remain so vivid and young? I think there’s a reason. It was a cinema about dreams. The intention was to make it the opium of the masses. Dreams and summaries go together. What better model of a synthesis than a nocturnal dream? Dreams simplify, don’t they?

Modern American cinema seems to me superficial…. The intention is to understand a certain reality and the result is nothing but a photographing of that reality. The best recent movie, in my eyes, with an artistic level, is Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. It’s a nightmare! It’s not in any sense realistic. I think cinema is closer to allegories than to reality. It’s closer to our dreams.

JC: Do you believe movies will ultimately replace novels?

MP: Film has a certain narrative approach and the novel another. But one needs to better understand their differences. One performs a very different act when “reading” a movie and when reading a novel. Your attention behaves differently. In cinema, your attention is centered on images and sounds. If a spectator with a philosophical mind, somebody accustomed to reading books, gets the same kind of information in a movie, he might not fully understand it. The act of “reading” a movie has to do with the act of looking at a picture and the act of reading a book; yet it’s neither one nor the other. It’s a combination. In film, you can’t really go into analytical explorations because the audience will reject that. On the other hand, there are certain literary authors—Hemingway, for instance—who have a cinematic perception of reality….

JC: Rita Hayworth, Norma Shearer, Hedy Lamarr, Greta Garbo, Dorothy Lamour, and Bette Davis are movie stars that have had a decisive influence on you. But what about Argentine stars? I can only remember Mecha Ortiz mentioned in your novels.

MP: It’s true. All the others were too close to me and I hated the things they did. But Mecha Ortiz was a femme fatale, a woman with a past, a superior woman, very self-confident, with a lot of experience in life.

JC: Do you remember the enthusiastic reception of Hiroshima mon amour and Last Year in Marienbad in Argentina? It coincided with the rise of the French nouveau roman. When I read the first chapter of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, it seemed to me there were traces of the “flat voices” used by the authors of the nouveau roman, especially Nathalie Sarraute.

MP: At that time people were talking about a new perception of reality and this literary movement was given credit for it. It was very well received and the first titles published by those authors had many followers. Today, the nouveau roman is almost gone. Their art was uniquely preoccupied with form. What these artists wanted was a formal revolution, a new formal perception of things. They committed a basic error: the content of their books depended on the formal structure. They were convinced that humankind had nothing else to tell, and that the only salvation was to tell stories from another point of view. This aesthetic approach, of course, is only conceivable in a country like France, so ancient; their history is full of outstanding people, so they carry a heavy weight on their back. Who could write in French after Proust or Flaubert? Fortunately, we in Hispanic America are safe in that respect; we don’t have giants, huge shadows on our backs. And the French were feeling that they didn’t have anything else to tell. For instance, I’ve always wondered why there isn’t a great French novel about the German occupation. It’s not that writers lack themes, because things are happening all the time. Nevertheless, the nouveau roman authors weren’t interested in telling that sort of thing. As a rule, one should never place form over content.

In cinema a similar thing happened. Everybody went to see Last Year in Marienbad because we all had read Robbe-Grillet’s novel, or Nathalie Sarraute’s Golden Fruits. And since it was a subjective narrative, it left every interpretation to the viewers. People had confidence in that artistic approach to the world, so we went to see the movie with a positive attitude. But the piece is now ridiculous. I saw it again in the United States last year, and when the actress said “L’annee derniere . . .” everybody laughed.

Returning to your question on the first chapter of Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, while writing it I wasn’t thinking of any theoretical approach. My only goal was to reproduce a real event-the way my aunt and some other women in the family would speak. As you can see, it had another origin.

JC: Going back to what you were saying on examining the Argentinian mistake-both political and sexual: Would it be different to approach the subject as an essayist rather than as a novelist?

MP: Yes, there’s a difference. The essayist has to follow a certain intellectual pattern. He has to deal with a certain discipline. The novelist has the advantage of using fantasy, of being subjective, of identifying himself or herself with what he’s writing about. If the novelist shares his or her problems with the characters, with the protagonist, if he or she is able to study his personal unconscious, then a few mysteries can be solved. But to achieve that you need total freedom.

JC: Political freedom?

MP: Yes, most of all political freedom. For someone who writes fiction, in order to activate the imagination and the unconscious, it’s essential to be free. It’s essential not to have an ideology, not to be a member of a political party. While the writer can have certain political views, he has to be careful not to have his hands tied. And I think one is better on the margin. Writers are not meant for action. Our only compromise is with the individual, personal truth. When the imagination is set free, it can point at the source of our problems, the source of repression. What’s better, a poetic intuition or an intellectual work? I think they complement each other. And I think that the more we share our characters’ problems, the better we can understand them.

JC: That means that the gap between action and literature, between art and politics …

MP: I think writers are not very serious people…. We are serious when it comes to discipline, but we are impulsive—we have to be, otherwise . . . where is the writer’s temperament? We lack objectivity. The writer needs to react to his or her own internal universe, to his or her own point of view. If he or she doesn’t have a personal point of view, it’s impossible to be a creator. I don’t believe in an ideal objectivity. I think our impulsive spirit and subjectivity are necessary. That’s why I don’t trust many of my colleagues. On the other hand, I don’t think we can handle ourselves in action.

JC: What kind of advice can you offer to young writers?

MP: The other day, Juan Rulfo recommended that the best thing for young writers to do was to read a lot. I disagree! I do believe that reading can help you understand what you’re writing and see what others are doing. But sometimes the desire for more information can act as an inhibitor. Why? Because if you’re overly conscious of what others are doing, you don’t give enough space to your own preoccupations. In fact, sometimes I think that forgetting what others do, being totally alienated from the world, can be very beneficial. It liberates you! Another piece of advice is never to put form over content. The important thing is to investigate a certain reality and find ways to change it.

JC: Could you say something about your experience in the creative writing workshops in the United States?

MP: I can tell you about my experience in the creative writing course at City College of New York. I’ve never seen a worse situation than that of young writers in the United States. The publishing business in North America is so commercialized that being a craftsman and wanting to experiment with narrative techniques is very difficult. The opposite thing happens in Latin America and in other countries of the world, for instance Spain. In the United States it’s very expensive to publish a book, and one cannot work underground or semi-professionally because the bookstores won’t stock your books. People are conditioned by advertisements. When a new novel by John Cheever is printed, it’s advertised all over as though it were the ultimate masterpiece, when in fact it’s far from one. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen in our countries. In Latin America, when a book is published, publicity plays a minor role. We have another way of approaching the event, in a manner more in accordance with the product. For instance, a friend may write a book review, or the reader may get advice from a bookseller. In the United States, on the other hand, people don’t go to bookstores to look around. Also, booksellers have no erudition whatsoever. You buy what’s been advertised! In Latin America, fighting censorship gives credibility to the writer. “I’m censored, therefore I am.” It becomes a source of inspiration. In the United States there is no censorship. The system is so solid, so strong, the writer’s voice has no real power.

JC: How have your novels been received by the feminist movement?

MP: Until Pubis Angelical, the feminist movement had received my novels quite well. This particular one, nevertheless, since it deals very directly with a feminist problem, found opposition. The critics complained I used a weak woman as a feminine example. They complained that she wasn’t a good role model because she had a problem she was trying to resolve: she wanted to enjoy herself with men but didn’t know how to. The objection was that she wasn’t a very intelligent woman. Yet, I thought the reader could take care of the problem. In Spain a feminist group condemned the novel. In Mexico, on the other hand, the book sold very well, yet all the book reviews were terrible; ironically, they were all written by men; the Mexican feminists kept silent.

JC: Tell me something about Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages.

MP: Well, after my third novel, I dealt with more recent problems: Buenos Aires, my exile in Mexico (I spent two years there), and also New York. This particular novel dealt with the years I spent in Manhattan, 1976 and 1977, which were truly disgusting. I arrived in the United States—where I had lived during the sixties—in January of 1976. 1 didn’t have an apartment. I was older and New York was less receptive than before. The country was empty of the hippie euphoria. The city was defeated. Add to all that the fact that I didn’t have my immigration papers. In that sense 1976 was a horrible year. And it was then when I had a violent encounter with a fascinating American man, a character of sorts. It was an encounter I experienced in English, and I wanted to write about it. I asked the character for permission. I wrote some two hundred pages of notes in English. As you know, until then Spanish had been my psychological and linguistic vehicle; but in this novel I had all the information I needed, yet I sensed I had to write it in English. The counterpart to the North American protagonist is my father. And the North American himself is a left-wing activist, one who rejects the entire system in which he lives, and later on he uses in his own personal relations all the repressive devices that he criticizes in his surroundings. Do you see what I mean? I couldn’t let this character slip through my fingers. It was so emblematic, so interesting. In the novel, my father arrives in New York as an exile and faces this guy, who is a sociologist and who, having been fired from every college and university, is now a teacher, a gardener, and a guardian of elders. When my father, in a sick state, arrives, this character takes care of him. My father’s English is deficient, of course. For the North American’s English, I thought of using a sort of Spanish-in-translation, an idiom a bit blooded, a bit fictitious. I know this was a crazy enterprise, yet … I was compelled to narrate it.

JC: One last question: Why are the tropics so important in your work?

MP: Perhaps because I’m always dealing with the absence of landscape in La Pampa. My greatest aspiration was always to live in the tropics.

JC: A sort of paradise lost, isn’t it?

MP: Yes, exactly.

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