Rosario: how a buried library during the dictatorship generated the idea of ​​a novel

"the sawmill" (UNR Editora), novel by Marcelo Britos
“The sawmill” (UNR Editora), novel by Marcelo Britos

A few years before the pandemic –I have lost the chronological order after the running of the bulls−, the family of a deceased Rosario businessman contacted me to participate in a research project and write a biography.

He was a man with developmentalist ideas, who, like so many of his time –the sixties and seventies−, had thought for the city a destiny of development and prosperity, looking at the example of other cities in the world that were growing at a very different rate. than that of Rosario, a city that had not finished waking up in the shadow of the centrality of Buenos Aires.

With his granddaughter, a historian and the most enthusiastic about the project, we began by gathering material and interviewing Pedro’s relatives –our man− to refine the hard information about his professional life and his ideas with more everyday and mundane details. Especially with the history of his family, Catalan immigrants settled on the coast at the beginning of the 20th century.

One of those interviewed was J., one of his sons and uncle of my research partner. A pleasant but reserved man, who received us in a suit in a central office, stacked in one of the most traditional buildings in Rosario. I save the details to go to the center of the story. In a passage of the talk, J. referred to a period in which he had been away from his father, arrested for his participation in a student political group in the Faculty of Engineering. He tried to turn the page quickly, already talking about more specific things about family life, but I couldn’t resist, the recorder turned off, asking him more about those years in prison. He told me that they had called Pedro from some barracks telling him that they were going to take his son, that they were not going to kill him, but that the kidnapping was inevitable. He heard the news from his own father about it.

An iconic image of Rosario, the Monument to the Flag (REUTERS/Agustín Marcarian)
An iconic image of Rosario, the Monument to the Flag (REUTERS/Agustín Marcarian)

“I got ready,” he said, “I buried the books in one of dad’s fields and went home to wait for them.” Of course, as many of you would have done, the next question I asked was if he had gone back for the books when he was released. The answer, almost indolent, without interest, not to ignore but as if avoiding the pain of reliving everything, was that they had sold that piece of the field when he was inside, that he never knew or perhaps did not try to remember where his library was.

A few months later I dropped out of the project due to health problems, but I couldn’t forget about the buried library. I kept in touch with Pedro’s granddaughter, she asking me to continue helping her –we made a good team−, and I looking for excuses not to come back. In one of those many conversations I asked him about his uncle, perhaps with the intention that he facilitate another interview, but to talk about that which already obsessed me to the point of fantasizing about maps and buried treasures. The answer left me cold: J. had died days ago, a sudden and unexpected death. Gone was the only one who could even remember where those books were buried. When I hung up, after complaining for a long time, I understood that there was only one way to find the library, and that was to do it in fiction, in a world in which there was someone with enough willpower and with the necessary information to be able to do it. Thus the novel was born the sawmillthat is how the narrator, Chipi and Victoria, the three “Odysseus” who undertook that search for me, were also born.


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