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Ars gratia Argentina

Ars gratia Argentina

Posted by Juan Gavasa on March 19, 2014

Argentine writers will be the focus of wider attention this week. Argentina is the country of honour at the Paris Book Fair; President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will be on hand to open the exhibition, which runs from March 21st-24th. But the build-up to the event has provoked accusations at home.

Argentina has one of the finest literary traditions in Latin America, but it also has a history of trying to silence its most outspoken authors. Among other things, the fair will mark the centenary of the birth of the writer Julio Cortázar. Briefly imprisoned after taking part in an anti-government protest in the 1940s, Cortázar decided to leave Argentina in 1951 in opposition to General Juan Domingo Perón’s regime. The writer settled in Paris, where he ended up living for the rest of his life. On trips back to Argentina, Cortázar was given a mixed reception by the Argentine political establishment. He was barred from the country completely during the seven years of the military dictatorship.

Critics allege that some contemporary Argentine writers are again being left out in the cold. They snipe that the Argentine delegation to the fair consists of those who approve of Ms Fernández’s administration or those who keep their political opinions to themselves. The fair’s Franco-Argentine selection committee has been accused of snubbing writers who have aired anti-government views.

Celebrated authors like Martín Caparrós and Jorge Asís are absent from the group of 30 Argentine writers about to descend on Paris. Mr Caparrós, an award-winning novelist, essayist and travel writer, has been translated into more than a dozen languages. He was exiled in France and Spain during Argentina’s “Dirty War” of 1976-83. A Buenos Aires resident again since the 1980s, he openly criticises Ms Fernández’s administration in his blog for Spanish newspaper El País.

Mr Asís also explicitly opposes the government. The novelist rose to fame in the early 1980s with his controversial book "Flowers Stolen in the Gardens of Quilmes". In the book Mr Asís wrote disparagingly of the military junta under General Jorge Rafael Videla. He also dedicated the book to a desaparecido, one of the many thousands who “disappeared” during the dictatorship. Nowadays Mr Asís publicly opposes Ms Fernández’s administration.

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