Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 8, 2017

All my Goodbyes, by Mariana Dimópulos, translated by Alice Whitmore

I was about half way through All My Goodbyes by Argentinian author Mariana Dimópulos, and a bit baffled by its fragmentary style, when I remembered Michael Orthofer’s indispensable The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World FictionBless him, he is the soul of brevity and tells me exactly what I need to know in less than four short pages.

Short summary: famous South American authors who cast a long shadow – Borges, Márquez, Llosa and Fuentes.  √Yes, I have read ’em all.  Only Isabel Allende broke through the period of repression under Pinochet et al.   √Yes, have read her too).  Then this bit:

… only recently have a post-Boom generation come to the fore.  Many writers have now repudiated magical realism and embraced American pop and consumer culture with as much fervour as the older generation denounced American imperialism.  The McOndo movement – its name openly mocking Garcia Márquez’s Macondo, the setting of One Hundred Years of Solitude – is one of the most prominent recent literary trends… (p. 389)

So, thus armed, I turn to Orthofer’s summary of Argentina’s contemporary literature.  Argentina, in the early C20th was wealthy, culturally aligned with the US and Europe, and with a thriving literary culture.  Borges is the towering figure, distinctive and influential.  There are others but the one that interests me is the one mentioned alongside Borges in the Giramondo blurb for All My Goodbyes: Julio Cortázar (1914-1984).

… Hopscotch (1963, English 1966) is one of the major novels of the Latin American Boom. (p.190) The first section of the novel is a conventional story, and Cortázar said that the nearly one hundred supplementary chapters of the second were expendable.  The protagonist of this soul-searching novel is Horacio Oliveira, who describes his unfulfilled life in first Paris and then Buenos Aires.  As the author explains, the novel’s 155 chapters can be – but do not have to be – read in the order in which they were printed. Cortázar supplies instructions for an alternative sequence, which ultimately leave the reader caught in an infinite loop.  While Cortázar’s presentation might appear to be a gimmick, it is carefully and well done and allows for different readings of the text, including the traditional one of front to back.  His novel 62: A Model Kit (1968, English 1972) builds on Hopscotch, specifically the sixty-second chapter of the earlier novel, putting into practice the theory outlined there, of a new kind of novel.  Melding place – the three locales of the novel: Paris, London, and Vienna – and presenting fragmentary material, this novel also demands more active participation from the reader. (p.390)

[Update (the next day): Synchronicity?  Stu at Winston’s Dad reviewed 62: a Model Kit just last week! ]

Now, I’m starting to make more sense of All My Goodbyes.  I certainly seem to be caught in a loop, and since the narrative is all over the place (just like its narrator, flitting from one place to another with no apparent purpose), perhaps it wouldn’t matter what order I read the pages in.  √Yes, she’s describing an unfulfilling life in places on the other side of the world.  What’s more, the settings (Málaga, Madrid, Heidelberg, Berlin) are indistinguishable from one another as if all cities are the same, signified by universal markers of modern urban life such as Ikea, a bakery, an anonymous auto-parts supplier and the ubiquitous café.  All her jobs are mundane and badly paid and all of them involve unreasonable working conditions.

This is the Giramondo blurb:

All My Goodbyes is a novel told in overlapping vignettes, which follow the travels of a young Argentinian woman across Europe (Málaga, Madrid, Heidelberg, Berlin) and back to Argentina (Buenos Aires, Patagonia) as she flees from situation to situation, job to job, and relationship to relationship. Within the complexity of the narrator’s situation, a backstory emerges about a brutal murder in Patagonia which she may or may not be implicated in, but whether this is the cause of her flight is never entirely clear – she is driven as much by psychological concerns, her relationship with her father, uncertainty about her identity and purpose in life. The novella is, as the title suggests, a catalogue of goodbyes, the result of a decade-long cycle of self-inflicted alienation which the narrator, despite herself, seems fated to perpetuate. In its structure it recalls the rich Argentinian tradition of Cortázar and Borges; its language is by turns stark and elaborate, brutal in its economy and yet poetic in its imagery.

This unnamed narrator is the self-destructive architect of her own alienation.  Her restlessness is not driven by a desire for adventure or self-fulfilment. and she makes no effort to connect with other people that she meets on her travels.  The narrative is equally disconnected too, as she recounts her dissatisfactions from place to place in no particular chronological or geographical order.  She is resentful of European culture and tired of being patronised for being from elsewhere, but she has nothing good to say about her homeland either.

Despite her unconvincing lies, her inattentiveness to the needs of others and her unreliability, people love her.  Julia, mother of a small boy called Kolya, loves her and wants to make a home with her, and is hurt when the narrator sets off again without even saying goodbye to the boy.  Alexander loves her but can’t overcome her hostility to Europe, whose cultural superiority offends her.

One of the party, who apparently hadn’t been informed of my origins (‘aren’t you Turkish?’) was busy disparaging the politics of Latin America.  He’d travelled to several countries in the Americas and had confirmed for himself the backwardness of our ideas and the corruption of our institutions.  He was one of those ignorant know-it-alls who manage to gatecrash every gathering. Spring billowed up in kilometre-high clouds, and we were soiled slowly by a gathering wind that worried the picnic implements.  In the wake of my cultural superior’s comments, a very civilised discussion unfolded on the triumphs of liberty and reason, and although a few of them revealed, like an unstitched hem, the guilt behind their Nazi past and the misdeeds of colonialism, to which Europe still owed a great deal of its wealth and progress, the group as a whole seemed terribly satisfied with themselves and with their cordial, democratic world.  One in particular seemed to consider himself some kind of apostle of social progress, and spent a while trying to convince me of the wonders of European transparency and the international market.  (p. 96)

After a decade away she makes her way back to Argentina and falls in love.  But things go horribly awry.  Her father with whom she had a rather twisted relationship is dead, and the conclusion suggests that she was right to avoid commitment because you end up losing everything anyway.

So, yes, it’s a pessimistic work, but it was interesting.  Whether or not its author identifies with the McOndo movement, I wouldn’t know, but All My Goodbyes seems to bear some of its preoccupations.  It refutes any stereotypical ideas about Latin Americans as gauchos in sombreros in a rural landscape: the narrator is, like so many in the modern world, a global citizen subject to the economic consequences of globalisation, that is, free to work anywhere in meaningless badly-paid occupations – and she doesn’t even need to take the initiative and learn the language because it’s not necessary for the kind of work she does.  The novella has what seems to be a McOndo kind of gritty realism, although the narrator doesn’t seem like a realistic person, but more of a cipher- a person of no importance whose only capacity for agency is to make sudden departures.  The only thing she can do, the only choices she can make, involve getting out and leaving.

I haven’t read a lot of books from Argentina – only Borges’ Labyrinths, Inez by Carlos Fuentes,  Varamo by César Aira, and Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman are reviewed on this blog and it’s been many years since I read Marquez, Allende and Llosa.  I meant to read All My Goodbyes during #WITMonth, but I got sidetracked by other things…

The cover art is an inspired choice.  It’s called ‘The Beginning’ and it’s by Kai Samuels-Davis

Other reviews are hard to find: Kerryn Goldsworthy in The Age.

Author: Mariana Dimópulos
Title: All My Goodbyes (Cada Despedida)
Translated from the Spanish by Alice Whitmore
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing, 2017, Southern Latitudes’ series
ISBN: 9781925336412
Review copy courtesy of Giramondo Publishing

Available from Fishpond: All My Goodbyes


Responses

  1. Sounds fascinating – both the style and the background.

    • This series, Southern Latitudes, is designed to pay attention to literature in our hemisphere, looking east and west. The publisher says that we have “a common background in colonisation, an awareness of the complex relationship between our Indigenous and migrant populations, and a shared experience of living in southern latitudes, under southern skies, to the rhythm of southern seasons.” He says that “this argues for a resemblance of perspectives in our writing”, and I think to some extent that might be true.

  2. Despite my preoccupation with old Australians, I love new movements in literature, and of course it is only Anglo-centricity that leads us (me!) to think of magic realism as the latest thing in Latin American Lit.

    • Well, I’m happy to admit that until I went fossicking I knew next-to-nothing about Latin American Lit. And I think that’s Giramondo’s point in initiating this series: we in Australia tend to look to the northern hemisphere’s literature rather than east and west.

  3. Is Inez set in Argentina, Lisa, because Fuentes is Mexican. I’ve just had a mural painted on my terrace wall of five Mexican authors. Unfortunately, Fuentes didn’t make the cut.

    • Yes, you’re right: I included him in the intro as one of the Latin American authors discussed by Orthofer, but I shouldn’t have included Fuentes in my last paragraph about Argentinians – he doesn’t belong there, and I’ll cross him out now! Thanks for setting me straight, and thanks for the image of the mural that you emailed me:)

  4. Another strong female voice from Latin America it is good to see so many female writers coming through after the boom years of mostly male writers

    • Hi Stu, I was delighted to find your review of the Cortazar on your blog!

      • Nice see he influencing a new generation of writers


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