Los 25 secretos mejor guardados de América Latina: Roberto Martínez Bachrich

The 25 Best Kept Secrets in Latin America: Roberto Martínez Bachrich

“I work tirelessly because I have so many doubts: I rewrite each text in an obsessive, maniacal manner. And I publish very little, out of respect for the readers.
I’m interested in domestic, intimate universes, rummaging and imagining how in unexpected corners of the quotidian an extreme, overwhelming situation can emerge, suddenly. The monstrous dimension of certain minor, private epics is what most attracts me about writing a story.”


I was born in a warm and tranquil city. Beside a river and an hour from the sea. Affectionate parents, great siblings and multiple dogs, cats, fish and turtles, surrounded my initial voyage.

Since childhood I was an impenitent reader. And without knowing it, maybe as a natural consequence of reading so much, I got sick with writing. Today I make my living teaching literature classes and editing books or magazines. It’s the only way, up to now, of doing something related to what one likes and being able to live off it. And, meanwhile, of course, I read, imagine, write. From that work, delicious and hard, my books have emerged; three short story collections, Desencuentros (1998), Vulgar (2000) and Las guerras íntimas (2011); a collection of poems, Las noches de cobalto (2002) and an essay, Tiempo hendido (2011).

People ask me why anyone should read me. I don’t have the slightest idea. I suppose the world, in a strict sense, doesn’t need to read me. I can’t offer anything that others, with better tools, haven’t already offered to literary space. They should read Kafka and Dostoyevsky, Melville and Camus. Conrad and Flaubert, Poe and Chekhov. Reyes, Paz and Picón Salas, Cortázar, Bolaño and Ribeyro. Ramos Sucre and Gerbasi, Cadenas and Gramcko.

But from reading them so much, one ends up writing. And maybe a reader can find tributes, clues, roads plowed for the re-encounter with great voices, in what one, humbly, scribbles. Or better said, wanting to establish the fact that they’ve always accompanied me. Literature, Borges said already, hasn’t done anything new for centuries. Since the Bible, Homer and Dante, we always tell the same three or four stories. But I feel that it’s important to tell them again. Over and over. It’s an exercise in resistance and continuity: a silent tribute. Maybe, just like it’s important to keep telling these stories, it’s also important that we keep reading them. Renewed, from other angles, other visions of the world. It’s what little I can say to whomever might want, graciously, to read my papers. I wish my short stories could accompany any reader, just as so many works by others have accompanied me. The dialogue is endless. The axe keeps coming down, as Kafka requested, on the frozen sea. And that’s the happiness, the beauty, I think, of continuing to write, continuing to read.

Literary Fragment

Fragment from “Aguas perdidas, aguas encontradas.” Taken from Las guerras íntimas (Caracas: Lugar Común, 2011).

“Ricardo and Luisiana enter the vortex fearlessly. I go more slowly: I think, doubt, wait. I swim a few feet backwards and forwards. At times you can catch a glimpse of a foot or a head in the jumble. Something stops me from the other side. I take a deep breath, submerge myself, come out again. I watch the passage to the other shore slightly horrified. It would be fantastic if the sea were to calm down a bit. To go on swimming without setbacks: with no shame, no glory. But it won’t happen. I turn my back to the uneven ground. I stare at the horizon. The sea isn’t as beautiful when you’re inside, absolutely alone, separated from the shore by a swarm of furious waves. I tell myself, enough fucking around, and dive into the water, deep down, foam and shoving. Just before going in again I take another deep breath: my lungs swell and my heart accelerates. A wave passes, another one returns. One comes, another goes. I embark on that one and move my feet and hands at full speed. I need to slide from one wave to another before they break in the crash. An impossible endeavor. I feel the scream underwater. A thousandth of a second before I feel it with my whole body, I feel the scream of two waves crashing against each other. And there’s no time to assimilate the sound. My body already belongs to the wave: it’s already pushing me from one side to another, it’s already turning me into a miserable rubber doll, turns me around like a rotisserie barbecue, it makes me lose my hearing, stuns me, scares me. I’ve heard many times that you have to let yourself be dragged a while before getting out onto shore. It’s a well-processed fact, it’s almost a reflex. But I let myself be kneaded by the waves a few seconds without understanding which one’s the precise moment for escape. And my breathing starts to fail me. Then I forget my body’s flaccidity and become rigid, I start to kick the waves, to swim, seeking the surface. The sea beats me down and my race is useless. I lose all sense of orientation and swim without knowing where I’m headed. I look for the light and I think I see it to my left. I accelerate and swim, but another wave crashes over my head. I swallow salt, my mouth fills with sand. I can’t open my eyes anymore. I make another effort and start to swim desperately in any direction. And my hands suddenly touch ground, preceding my head which crashes against the bottom. That’s where I understand what fear is. I turn around and push upwards with my feet. It’s a brief ray of hope knowing that now there’s an up and a down: maybe you always have to touch bottom before being saved. I swim toward the light dazed, it seems like the surface is approaching. And right there, when the episode seems to have ended, a new wave massacres me from above. All hope drowns within me. My body loses the sky again and twirls underwater at the whim of each wave. That’s where I understand what horror is. But suddenly the noise ends. It’s a matter of seconds, but the stupefying murmur of the waves crashing one after another stops. The sea grows quiet and plunges me into the silence. It’s a thick silence, a perfect symphony of quiet. I open my eyes and the earth that mixes with the waves seems to have disappeared: the sea has become completely blue. It’s a clean, whole, brilliant, transparent blue. It’s the bluest blue I’ve ever seen. It’s a veracious, absolute blue. At that point I lose my fear and say to myself, almost with certainty, almost aloud though my mouth is sealed by the water, that I’ve died. And I understand it like you understand one plus one is two. Without fear. Without desperation. I’ve died. Like that, in past perfect. Like a real, finite, certain fact. I’ve died. And it’ll be a real shame, I think, because I’m young and stupid and I still wanted to do so many things in life. But I’ve died.”

(Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara, 2011)

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