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The Twelve Faces of Patricio Pron

Works by Argentinean writer, journalist, and philologist Patricio Pron have been translated into English, German, French, and Italian. He has earned the Manuel Musto Award for a novel and the Juan Rulfo Prize for best story, among other awards. The magazine Granta included him on its list of the twenty-two most promising Spanish-language novelists.

By Alejandra Algorta
Photos: Cortesía Hay Festival

AA: If you were to read the complete works of Patricio Pron without knowing anything about the author or his origins, you might easily come to the conclusion that each one of his twelve books was written by a different author. Where can we see the author in those books? Perhaps between the lines, in some trait shared by the characters, in the sequence of words he constructs and infuses with meaning for readers before abandoning them when tragedy strikes, or maybe in the humor that we do not quite see until we find ourselves laughing at war, laughing at art, laughing at sorrow and death, and in the final analysis, laughing at Patricio Pron, who likewise laughs at himself and who must surely now be writing a book completely different from the previous one.

PP: There are two kinds of writers [he says in rapid-fire speech]: there is the writer who perfects his style book after book and tries to be the same writer who penned the previous work, so that after a certain point in his career, it is impossible to not recognize his books. I am a member of that family of writers who try to be different from book to book. Of course, it’s impossible to do that. But it seems to me that a writer who tries to write differently always challenges himself, while challenging his readers as well. So he is open to adventure, risk, and surprises.

AA: Your most recent book, No derrames tus lágrimas por nadie que viva en estas calles (2016), which earned the Cálamo Extraordinario Award, is a hybrid detective novel that draws on interviews done in 1978 to untangle a murder committed on April 21, 1945 at the first Italian Convention of Fascist Writers.

PP: Borrello —the character who runs throughout the book— understands that futurism is hopeless: as soon as Fascism falls, futurism will also collapse, which is in fact what happened. Borrello wants to save something of what he considers the purest, most essential aspects of the vanguard he helped forge. I feel that he manages to rescue a type of art that is willing to admit that it is political, an art that is prepared to influence politics and that distrusts any medium that is not deeply individual.

AA: You were born in Rosario in 1975, a year after the death of Perón and some months before the coup that precipitated the onset of the last Argentinean dictatorship. The atmosphere was manifestly political, which is always reflected in your writing. El espíritu de mis padres sigue subiendo en la lluvia relates the story of the life of a man who watches his father die in the hospital as he tries to uncover the truth about his family, something that has been buried under the silence and disappearances of the dictatorship. The novel Nosotros caminamos entre sueños is an ironic, humorous look at the Falklands War. Although it was a time of severe oppression for Argentineans, the defeat led to the Process of National Reorganization, the end of the dictatorship, and the return of democracy.

PP: My education and the circumstances of my upbringing encouraged me to always think of myself as a political writer. This does not necessarily mean that my works are didactic or attempt to tell readers what to think or for whom to vote; that is absolutely not my intention. But it seems to me that all literature is political, in that it has political effects. You can pretend to ignore this reality and write as if you didn’t have an obligation toward your readers or you can admit it and incorporate it in your work.

AA: But the narrative of your historical novel No derrames tus lágrimas por nadie que viva en estas calles takes a tack that is not really connected with the historical events that marked your life.

PP: In the case of this novel, it was important to not just express what I feel about Fascism or futurism, which is really not that important, but rather to contribute to the dialogue on what we think, particularly about those questions that are so hard to answer: “How do we react to policies that end up killing people? How far can politics go? To what extent should the State engage in violence?” These questions were, of course, very important in Spain, Italy, and Germany, but it is also an issue that affects all of us who grew up under the dictatorship in Argentina and it is still relevant in Venezuela and Colombia today. In this sense, you could see history as cyclical, and I have the impression that the only way to break free of the cycle is for all of us to try to contribute to a discussion on these issues.

AA: Rather than saying that Patricio Pron is the author of a certain number of books, it might be more accurate to say that there are a number of individual books, each different, that have the author Patricio Pron in common. Is there a particular reason behind your multiple styles of writing?

PP: Yes, I feel like I have succeeded in some way, in a certain pathological way, in my project of becoming another person. What remains is always the desire to write books that are good enough for their readers, and the desire to enrich the conversation between politics and society instead of impoverishing it. Faith and desire are possibly the only two things an author possesses; that is what links these texts.

AA: So what happens to the concept of the great writer of novels? That author who creates interconnected worlds through writing that is idiosyncratic, always identifiable, and reliable?

PP: I think that the most institutional aspects of literature have a tendency to crush it, to convert it into a genre blanketed by certain respectability, like dust on furniture. I think that a good way for an author to avoid a coating of dust is to constantly shift about in his writing, and invite judgment on many of those institutions and authors’ preconceived ideas.

AA: Pron’s readers are no slouches, since following an author who always tries to be someone else is no easy task.

PP: You might say that my readers form part of a secret society of which I’m not the founder, but just another member. And it’s nice to feel that a number of people have understood the rules of the game and have decided to play it with me. Rather than dreading the thought of sitting down to write every morning, I take it as a game.