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Pola Oloixarac

GRANTA 113: THE BEST OF YOUNG SPANISH-LANGUAGE NOVELISTS

Mara sleeps with three of her mother’s boyfriends in Pola Oloixarac’s hilarious, hyper-intelligent short story, ‘Conditions for the Revolution’. Needless to say, each of Cris and Mara’s lovers is absurdly unappealing in his own special way, as are the political options of the day in Argentina, where Oloixarac’s story is set. It occurs during the pot-banging protests in Buenos Aires of the early ‘Oughts’ where the middle class took to the streets in solidarity with the poor, everyone reduced to bartering by Argentina’s debt crisis. Protests led to the resignations of four presidents within less than a year; a typically Argentine political soap opera with existential undertones. In Oloixarac’s tale, street politics has its normal incendiary effect on the mother, Cris’s, sexuality, which in turn gets mixed up with the boundaryless, competitive affections of Mara, the single mother’s daughter. Cris makes earnest attempts to get Mara to engage with the moral exigencies of her time; while Mara gets high on chaos and wishes the cops would come break up the crowd on horseback with the ‘incandescent beam of brute force’. Of course, the disillusionment and illogic of the story’s present are overlaid on the all-too-recent, violently unpredictable-and already mythologized-past of kidnappings, disappearances, left and right-wing violence that began in the early 70s. The 1970s, that is; or perhaps a century and a half earlier, in a confused romantic past littered with tropes of bloodthirsty, gambling gaucho revolutionaries and intellectuals mistakenly quoting French philosophers. In Oloixarac's story it is clear that this past never ended.

Here is a critical and typically beautiful paragraph that comes right after a rapid quasi-genealogical sketch of Mara and her age-mates, all of whom were literally born of militant revolutionaries and raised by colonels, or from the loins of another equally fraught situation: ‘They were the bookish daughters of a strange literary country... Just as tragedy brightens Antigone’s moral beauty, those stories exalted the miracle of their very presence; it made them stand out as pure and individual beings, born of a national aristocracy of fire and bravery; like girls smearing their faces with mud to scare each other, they watched in fascination how cruelty transformed into astonishment on their own mouths and expressions.’

Oloixarac’s narrative keeps shifting, apparently lazily and capriciously, from one scene to its antecedent, one character’s mind to another’s. As moments crumble into each other, they reveal all-too-adjacent unsavory agendas. These deceptively casual disjunctions parallel Mara’s apparently cynical bed-hopping. Couplings and points of view ooze together like molten glass or ice cream melting on hot pavement. Yet each scene and rumination is dead right, and crisply observed. After the end we may or may not realize we’ve been hoodwinked into forgetting to wonder what happened to Mara’s father. Maybe he’s the ‘Rodrigazo’ whom Mara instantly succeeds in not thinking about after the loser-lover Quique brings him up as a distraction. But then again, maybe he isn't. – Kate Wheeler, Best Young American Novelist 1996

Each of the Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists answered a questionnaire on their influences and the role of the writer in public life. Here are Oloixarac's answers:

Name the five writers you most admire at the moment (any period, language or genre).

Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, J.D. Watson, Carl Schmitt, Mario Bellatin. This last week, I fancy Saint Augustine.

Have you published literary criticism?

Only as harmless fun.

Which languages do you read in?

English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Google Translate for everything else.

Do you have your own web page?

Two blogs: One on generalities and the other on orchids.

Is your fiction your sole source of income? If not, what else do you live off?

I write about technology for various publications.

Should writers play a role in public life beyond the publication of their work? If so, in what way?

I feel we’re all called to serve higher purposes than those of the daily métier, aren’t we? I like to think of the 21st century writer as a voice that becomes powerful in various types of texts and contexts: in the technological, ideological and political, and in the old, noble task of prose.

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Pola Oloixarac’s story ‘Conditions for the Revolution’ forms part of the online edition of this issue. Back to main page