Picture of author.

Fernando Sorrentino

Teoksen Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges tekijä

27+ teosta 100 jäsentä 15 arvostelua

Tietoja tekijästä

Includes the name: Fernando Sorrentino

Image credit: Fernando Sorrentino

Tekijän teokset

Associated Works

Sudden Fiction International: Sixty Short-Short Stories (1989) — Avustaja — 212 kappaletta
Cuentos Requeridos 1 (2003) — Avustaja — 1 kappale

Merkitty avainsanalla





My expectations were checked when I bought this Saturday in Nashville. I was honestly looking to be prompted into different areas. At that aspect was successful. The interviews themselves are intriguing but rather insular within the confines of Argentinian letters, an area I instantly concede outside my depth. The non-literary questions pushed to Borges reveal a modest conservative, one who simply wants time to dine with his mother and to work on his Icelandic. Who could question that? Borges does wax extensively on the Buenos Aires of his youth. These flourishes are fascinating.

Likely a curious piece for fans of El Jorge but not much appeal for general readers.
… (lisätietoja)
Merkitty asiattomaksi
jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |

Over two dozen finely crafted absurdist short stories from Argentina’s Fernando Sorrentino. In its pages we encounter the city of Buenos Aries overrun with scorpions, a wart on a man's pinky finger grows into an elephant, cockroaches dream of becoming rhinos, alligators dance with tourists, parakeets threaten to take over the world and an old man exhibits the dark, creepy qualities of a vampire. To provide a more specific taste of this outstanding author's work, below is my write-up of two stories from the collection I found particularly fascinating:

Engineer Sismondi travels to República Autónoma deep in the Brazilian jungle. From all those pictures he saw in magazines, the little city struck him as an anthology of extravagances and anachronisms. For one thing, the city was built in the shape of a hexagon, surrounded by high walls like a medieval town with its five streets following the same hexagonal pattern of the outer walls all the way to the park at the city's center. And the avenues, four in number, run from north, south, east and west, from outer walls to the center. No question, Sismondi muses, this peculiar specimen of modern geometrical architecture might just have been built to attract North American and Japanese tourists.

Upon entering the jungle city and making his obligatory visit to the admissions office, Sismondi quickly discovers as well-ordered and impeccable as the surrounding glass, steel and acrylics within the air-conditioned building, the trim, thirty-something women with their blue eyes, pulled back blonde hair and pale smooth skin, women who all seemed to resemble each other, speak to him in a mocking, condescending tone. Added to this, some of their questions and statements are downright insulting. Our twenty-seven-year-old engineer is beginning to feel more than a tad uncomfortable.

Once outside on the street, studying a map of the city, Sismondi detects the design is as artificial as it is simple, constructed as if in defiance of the naturalness of the surrounding jungle. The visiting engineer is made even more nervous and anxious when the bell boy at his hotel rejects his tip angrily, glaring at him with hateful eyes and then slams the door on his way out.

But the real drama begins when engineer Sismondi records in his notebook how one evening while dinning at a restaurant, his passion is aroused by the sight of a lovely young curvaceous woman, probably Argentinian of Arab ancestry, with large black eyes and dark curly hair. But she is with another man. Darn! Several days later, while drinking coffee at an outdoor café, this same beauty drops a note on the sidewalk next to him. Returning to his hotel room, he reads her name is Isabel Simes and she is being accused of a crime she didn’t commit that carries the death penalty. Isabel asks him to contact her father at a specific address in Rio de Janeiro.

Sismondi acts but he is then immediately summoned to the city’s police headquarters. What follows will remind a reader of Franz Kafka, such tales as Before the Law, The Trial and The Castle. However, this is not Kafka, this is Fernando Sorrentino - thus we have a Kafkaesque nightmare with an absurdist curveball thrown in at the very end. Thank you, Fernando. An unforgettable literary lollapalooza.

Mister Sanitation: Our unnamed narrator tells us right off he is obsessive about cleanliness – he doesn’t touch dogs or cats and does everything in his power to rid his home of spiders and insects. He also takes the necessary, vital steps to avoid being in close range of a mosquito or fly. Rotten potato in his very apartment - alarming; a mouse, or, even a worse, horror of horrors, a rat – unthinkable. At a comfortable distance we as readers and observers might laugh at someone with such an obsession but actually living with this affliction is no laughing matter. The medical profession considers obsessive-compulsive a disorder, and for good reason.

Malignant Rodent: Very grievous news – Mr. Sanitation detects there is a malevolent presence in the form of a mouse in his apartment. But, where? The mouse hunt is on - as if that nasty rodent were the bearer of plague-carrying fleas, every square inch of kitchen, bathroom, dining room and bedroom undergo diligent, rigorous, microscopic inspection. The results? Even with high power objective lens turned to its highest power of magnification, no mouse.

Sterilized and Sanitized: To make sure we know just how completely and thoroughly he is committed to minimizing possible contamination and maximizing the antiseptic, our narrator enumerates his habits of eating and living, as when he uses boiling water and detergent to scrub clean his plate, glass, fork and knife. Of course, feeling the need to convey such details as part of his story underscores how easily obsession can overwhelm.

Rats!: Our narrator is no longer bound to office work or teaching school, jobs he found uncomfortable for reasons pertaining to culture, economics and ethics “in that strict order” (you have to love how, true to form as an obsessive-compulsive, he makes sure we know the strict order). So, what does our Mr. Sanitation do for a living? Since he enjoys reading, has a keen ability in foreign languages and cherishes his independence, he now has his dream job: sitting alone in his antiseptic apartment, performing the work of a translator, mostly for large American publishers. And, a live-in partner or wife? No way, José - no need and the disruption to his fanatically neat and polished living space would be highly distasteful. But to suffer the intrusion of a rat! Yes, at this point that rodent is not a mouse but a rat.

Seeking Help: He pays a visit to his local veterinary clinic to inquire on the most effective method for ridding his apartment of rats. The interchange with the woman behind the desk is laugh-out-loud hilarious. When he is about ready to walk out the door, rat pills in hand, we read: “Although I would have preferred a less grotesque and scientific, less Anglo-Saxon plan, something a bit more trustful like facing the rat and trying to kill it by hitting it on the head with a shovel, for instance, I accepted her satanic prescription because truly, I no longer had the strength or the will to start a face to face confrontation.”

The Crackup: Events turn weird for Mr. Sanitation beginning that very night when he is woken from a sound sleep and thinks he hears the rat tap-tap-tapping. Ah, echoes of Edgar Allen Poe, perhaps? His calm, methodical strategy is forever abandoned; our narrator declares henceforth he will take on the role of an irrational fighter. I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for a reader so I’ll end by mentioning he makes a startling discovery the next morning which prompts him to revisit that veterinary clinic where he walks out with much more than simply rat poison.
… (lisätietoja)
Merkitty asiattomaksi
Glenn_Russell | 1 muu arvostelu | Nov 13, 2018 |

Conversion of wetlands for commercial development, drainage schemes, extraction of minerals, overfishing and tourism pose a real threat to the environment and wildlife. How would an absurdist fiction writer like Fernando Sorrentino respond to such human insensitivity and stupidity? I think this story (included below in its entirety) is a spot-on answer. A number of features I find particularly appealing:

• The lagoon is encircled by a perfectly well-constructed asphalt road but such is not good enough for tourists who want more direct, immediate contact with the wildness of the lagoon and the birds. And, ultimately, they all get what they want!

• Unlike the usual accommodations where tourists are provided comfortable boats or walkable bridges, these tourists have to use stilts to cross the lagoon. Stilts! Infusing the tale with an absurdist twist: stilts require a good bit of effort and skill, especially if you are using them in a lagoon;

• Although tourists are warned “the use of stilts may lead to fairly serious psychological alterations,” tourists being tourists tend to ignore such warnings, treating them as a joke. Ah, the tourist mindset: Your local attraction is really all about me and nothing can really touch me since I am, well, a paying tourist;

• The birds are empowered to deal effectively with the mindless human intruders;

• There is no direct violence involved; rather, the birds’ weapons are sound and subtle mind control;

• The town’s population keeps on making stilts to fuel the local economy. If tourists are sacrificed in the process, that’s simply the way it goes.

AN ENLIGHTENING BOOK by Fernando Sorrentino
In his brief prologue to Stelzvögel, professor Franz Klamm explains that Dr. Ludwig Boitus travelled from Gottingen to Huayllén-Naquén with the sole purpose of studying in situ the assimilative attraction of the long-legged bird popularly known as calegüinas (this name has almost unanimous acceptance in the specialist literature in Spanish and it will be used here). Stelzvögel fills an acute gap in our knowledge of the subject. Before Dr. Boitus' exhaustive investigations -- the presentation of which takes up almost a third of the volume -- little was known for certain about calegüinas. In fact, except for fragmentary qualitative studies by Bulovic, Balbón, Laurencena and others -- works plagued by whimsical, unsubstantiated claims -- before Stelzvögel, the scientific community lacked a reliable basis on which to base further research. In his work, Dr. Boitus starts from the -- perhaps debatable -- premise that calegüinas' main character trait is its very strong personality (using the term personality in the sense established by Fox and his school). This personality is so potent that simply being in the presence of a calegüinas is enough to induce strongly calegüinas-like behavior in other animals.

The calegüinas are found exclusively in the Huayllén-Naquén lagoon. There, they flourish -- some estimates put the population as high as one million -- helped both by local by-laws, which make hunting them illegal, and by the fact that their flesh is inedible and their feathers have no industrial use. In common with other long-legged birds, they feed on fish, Batrachia and the larvæ of mosquitoes and other insects. Although they posses well-developed wings, they rarely fly, and when they do, they never go beyond the limits of the lagoon. They are of a similar size to storks, though their beaks are slightly larger and they do not migrate. Their back and wings are a blueish-black; their head, chest and belly, a yellowish-white. Their legs are pale yellow. Their habitat, the Huayllén-Naquén lagoon, is shallow but wide. Since there are no bridges across it -- in spite of many representations to that end -- the locals are obliged to make a long detour in order to get to the opposite side. This has had the effect of making complaints to the local newspaper almost continuous but communication between the shores of the lagoon rather scarce. To the uninformed observer it would appear that residents could cross the lagoon quickly and easily by using stilts and even without them, at its deepest point, the water would barely reach the waist of a man of average height. However, the locals know -- although perhaps in a intuitive way only -- the assimilative power of the calegüinas, and the fact is that they prefer not to attempt the crossing, choosing instead -- as already stated -- to go around the lagoon, which is encircled by an excellent asphalt road.

All this has not stopped the hiring of stilts to tourists becoming the single most important part of the Huayllén-Naquén economy, a circumstance that is perhaps justifiable in view of the scarcity of basic resources in the region. The absence of serious competition and the lack of official pricing has made the hiring of stilts a very costly business indeed; inflating prices to outrageous levels is the only way tradesmen can recoup their inevitable losses. In fact, there is a rather limited Huayllén-Naquén by-law stipulating that shops hiring stilts should display a sign, positioned in open view and written in bold lettering, warning that the use of stilts may lead to fairly serious psychological alterations. As a rule, tourists tend not to heed these warnings and, for the most part, treat them as a joke. It should be noted that it is simply not possible to make sure that the notices are read by every single tourist even when, as is undeniably the case, the shopkeepers comply with the by-law punctiliously and place the signs in highly conspicuous places. The authorities are notoriously inflexible on this point. It is true that inspections are not very frequent and are always preceded by a warning sent a few minutes beforehand -- but the inspectors are known to perform their duties conscientiously and it can only be coincidence that there is no recorded case of a shopkeeper being sanctioned under the by-law.

Once in possession of their stilts, the tourists, either by themselves or in cheerful, chattering groups of two, three, five or ten go into the Huayllén-Naquén lagoon with the aim of reaching the opposite shore where they can buy, at very reasonable prices, tins of exquisite fish -- a product that provides the main source of income for the population on that side of the lagoon. For the first two or three hundred meters, the tourists advance happily; laughing, shouting, playing practical jokes and frightening the calegüinas, which, like all long-legged birds, are extremely nervous creatures. Gradually, as they penetrate deeper and deeper into the lagoon, the tourists become more subdued while, meter-by-meter, the density of calegüinas increases. Soon the birds are so numerous that progress becomes extremely difficult for the tourists. The calegüinas no longer run or fly away nervously -- as their numbers rise, they appear to grow in confidence, although their behavior could also be explained by the fact that, by then, most movement is physically impossible. Whatever the reason, there comes a moment when shouting is no longer enough and it becomes necessary to use sticks and hands to shoo the calegüinas out of the way. Even then they concede very little ground. This is generally the moment when the tourists fall silent and the joking and laughing comes to an end. Then -- and only then -- they notice a dense humming emanating from the throats of the thousands of calegüinas, filling the entire lagoon. In its timbre, this humming is not very different from that of doves -- it is, however, considerably more intense. It enters the ears of the tourists and resonates inside their heads, it fills their minds so completely that, gradually, they too begin to hum. To start with, this humming is a poor imitation of the birds, but soon it becomes impossible to distinguish between the humming of the humans and that of the calegüinas. At this point, the tourists often start to experience a choking sensation, they can detect nothing but calegüinas for as far as the eye can see and soon loose the ability to differentiate between land and the water of the lagoon. In front and behind, left and right they see an endlessly repeating, monotonous desert of black and white made up of wings, beaks and feathers. There is usually one tourist -- especially if there is a large group of them on the lagoon -- who perceives the wisdom and convenience of returning to Huayllén-Naquén and sacrificing their prospective purchase of exquisite fish at very reasonable prices from the opposite shore.

But where is the opposite shore? How can they go back if they have lost all notion of the direction they came from? How can they go back if there are no longer any points of reference, if everything is black and white, an endlessly repeating landscape of wings, beaks and feathers? And eyes: two million blinking, expressionless eyes. In spite of all the evidence that returning is no longer an option, the tourist who is most lucid -- or rather, least delirious -- addresses his companions with some pathetic exhortation: 'Friends, let us go back the way we came!' But his companions cannot understand his strident croaks, so different are they from the gentle humming they are now accustomed to. At this point, even though they themselves answer with the same unintelligible croaks, deep down they are still conscious of the fact that they are human. Fear, however, has unhinged them and they all begin to croak simultaneously. Unfortunately, this chorus of croaks has no meaningful content and, even if they wanted to, the tourists would be unable to communicate their final coherent thought: that they are all calegüinas. It is then that the elders of the calegüinas community, who up to this point have kept knowingly silent, begin to croak with all their might. It is a triumphant croak, a cry of victory that starts from that inner circle and spreads quickly and tumultuously through the length and breadth of the Huayllén-Naquén lagoon and beyond its limits to the remotest houses of the nearby town. The locals put their fingers in their ears and smile. Happily, the noise lasts barely five minutes, and only after it has completely stopped do the tradesmen get back to making as many pairs of stilts as tourists have entered the lagoon.
… (lisätietoja)
Merkitty asiattomaksi
Glenn_Russell | 1 muu arvostelu | Nov 13, 2018 |

Piccirilli is one of the most charming stories you will ever encounter, from the pen of Argentine author Fernando Sorrentino, where he recounts his unique discovery in his library. Ah, the discoveries we make in our own libraries! An unending treasure chest of adventure and imagination.

So the question arises: If I were cleaning my bookshelves an found a Piccirilli-type miniature person between my books, what would I want him to look like? The answer is easy: I’d love him to be a tiny Joseph Knecht, the master of the glass bead game from Herman Heese’s novel. Unlike Piccirilli, Joseph would be able to talk to me in English with a German accent.

I’d take good care of the little glass bead master, among other things, I’d place a bag of marbles on one of the shelves so Joseph could roll them around to his heart’s content. I suspect he would never have dreamed of such massive glass beads in his wildest imagination (and he did have a wild imagination; I mean, just read those three autobiographical tales at the end of the novel).

I’d also like Joseph to give me a little feedback after reading my reviews, in this way, my ideal Joseph would have a hefty dose of John Updike in his makeup. Also, we could discuss a number of great books I happen to own. And, of course, I’d go to the health food store and feed Joseph plenty of green foods like spirulina to keep up his vigor and strength. Why didn’t Fernando think of this? Anyway, here is this magical story in its entirety. And below the story and an artist’s rendering of Joseph Knecht, I’ve included The Following Man, a prose poem I wrote many years ago about another little guy I enjoyed having around.

For some time now, my bookshelves have been filled to capacity and overflowing. I should have had them enlarged, but wood and labor are expensive, and I prefer to put off these expenses in favor of other, more urgent ones. In the meantime, I've resorted to a temporary solution: I placed the books in flat, and in this way I managed to make better use of the little space available.

Now it's well known that books - whether they're vertical or horizontal - gather dust, bugs, and cobwebs. I haven't the time, the patience, or the dedication to do the periodical cleaning required.

On a certain cloudy Saturday a few months ago, I finally decided to take all the books out one by one, give them a dusting off, and run a damp dustcloth over the shelves.

On one of the lower shelves, I found Piccirilli. Despite the dust in those nooks, his appearance was, as always, impeccable. But I became aware of that only later. At first, he just looked to me like a piece of shoestring or a bit of cloth. But I was mistaken; it was already Piccirilli, from head to foot. That is to say, a complete little man five centimeters in height.

In an absurd way, it struck me as strange that he should be dressed. Of course, there was no reason for him to be naked, and the fact that Piccirilli is tiny does not warrant our thinking of him as an animal. Stated more precisely, then, I was surprised not so much by the fact that he was dressed as by how he was dressed: a plumed hat, a filmy shirt with point lace edging, a coat with long tails, leather, floppy topped hip boots, and a sword at his waist.

With his bristly mustache and his pointed, little Vandyke beard, Piccirilli was a tiny living facsimile of D'Artagnan, the hero of The Three Musketeers, just as I remembered him from old illustrations.

So then, why did I name him Piccirilli and not D'Artagnan, as would seem logical? I think, above all, for two complementary reasons: the first is that his sharp pointed physique literally demands the small i's of Piccirilli and rules out, accordingly, the robust a's of D'Artagnan; the second is that, when I spoke to him in French, Piccirilli didn't understand a word, which demonstrated to me that, since he was no Frenchman, neither was he D'Artagnan.

Piccirilli must be fifty years old; there are a few silver threads running through his dark hair. I am thus calculating his age the way we do with human beings of our size. Except that I don't know whether identical amounts of time are meted out to someone of Piccirilli's tininess. Seeing that he is so diminutive, one tends to think - unjustifiably? - that Piccirilli's life is shorter and that his time passes more swiftly than ours, as we understand the case to be in animals or insects.

But who can know that? And even in the event that it is so, how does one explain the fact that Piccirilli wears seventeenth-century clothes? Is it conceivable that Piccirilli is nearly four hundred years old? Can Piccirilli, that being who occupies so little space, hold title to so much time? Piccirilli, that being of such fragile appearance?

I should like to question Piccirilli on these and other matters, and I should like him to respond; and, in fact, I often do put such questions to him and, in effect, Piccirilli answers them. But he can't manage to make himself understood, and I don't even know whether he understands my questions. He does listen to me with an attentive look on his face, and, no sooner do I fall silent, he hastens to answer me. To answer me, yes, but in what language is Piccirilli speaking? Would that he spoke in some language I don't know; the trouble is, he speaks in a language that is nonexistent on earth.

Despite his physique so suitable to the letter i, Piccirilli's high-pitched little voice only utters words in which the exclusive vowel is the o. Of course, since Piccirilli's voice timbre is so extremely shrill, that o sounds almost like an i. This, however, is a mere conjecture on my part, since Piccirilli never pronounced the i; hence, neither can I guarantee, by way of comparison, that that o is really an o, nor, as a matter of fact, that it is any other vowel.

With my scanty knowledge I endeavored to determine what language Piccirilli speaks. My attempts proved unfruitful, except that I was able to establish in his speech an invariable succession of consonants and vowels.

This discovery could have some importance if one were sure that, in reality, Piccirilli speaks some language. Because any language, however poor or primitive it may be, will probably be characterized by a certain linguistic scope. But the fact is that all of Piccirilli's speech is reduced to this phrase: "Dolokotoro povosoro kolovoko."

I call it "phrase" for the sake of convenience, for who can know what those three words contain? Whether they really are words, and whether there really are three? I have written them like that because those are the pauses I seem to perceive in Piccirilli's single-stringed diction.

As far as I know, no European language possesses such phonetic characteristics. As for African, American, or Asiatic languages, my ignorance is total. But that doesn't concern me since, on the basis of all evidence, Piccirilli is, like us, of European origin.

For that reason, I addressed him with sentences in Spanish, English, French, Italian; for that reason, I attempted words in German. In all instances, Piccirilli's imperturbable little voice responded: "Dolokotoro povosoro kolovoko."

At times Piccirilli irritates me; other times I feel sorry for him. It's obvious he regrets not being able to make himself understood and thereby initiate a conversation with us.

'Us' includes my wife and me. The intrusion of Piccirilli produced no change in our lives. And the truth is that we esteem and even love Piccirilli, that minuscule musketeer who eats with us in a very mannerly way and who keeps - Lord knows where - an entire wardrobe and personal possessions proportionate to his size.

Although I can't get him to answer my questions, I do know he is aware that we call him Piccirilli, and he has no objection to being called that. On occasion, my wife affectionately calls him Pichi. This seems to me like a breach of formality. It's true that Piccirilli's smallness lends itself to affectionate nicknames and loving diminutives. But, on the other hand, he's already a mature man, perhaps four centuries old, and it would be more appropriate to call him Mr. Piccirilli, save for the fact that it's very hard to call such a tiny man Mister.

In general, Piccirilli is quite proper and demonstrates exemplary behavior. At times, however, he playfully attacks flies or ants with his sword. At other times he sits in a little toy truck, and, pulling it by a string, I take him for long rides around the apartment. These are his meager amusements.

Does Piccirilli get bored? Can he be alone in the world? Are there other creatures of his kind? Where can he have come from? When was he born? Why does he dress like a musketeer? Why does he live with us? What are his intentions?

Useless questions repeated hundreds of times, to which Piccirilli monotonously responds: "Dolokotoro povosoro kolovoko."

There are so many things I would like to know about Piccirilli; there are so many mysteries he will carry with him to the grave.

Because, unfortunately, Piccirilli has been dying for some weeks. We suffered a great deal when he got sick. Seriously ill, we immediately learned. But what treatment could be devised to cure him? Who would dare surrender the tiny body of the being called Piccirilli to a physician's judgment? What explanation would we give? How were we to explain the unexplainable, how speak of something about which we are ignorant?

Yes, Piccirilli is leaving us. And, helpless, we shall let him die. I'm already concerned about knowing what we're to do with his almost intangible corpse. But I'm more concerned, infinitely more concerned, over not having delved deeply into a secret that I held in my hands and that, without my being able to prevent it, will escape me forever.


For years he has been following me, rolling along next to my shadow, almost within striking distance, but not quite. I’ve become quite fond of him lately. Foolish and silly and ridiculous – that’s the best way I can describe the following man.

He’s round, has many feet, over twenty by last count, and is bright yellow in the morning and bright orange in the afternoon. He uses a blue dot for his nose and another dot, pink, I think, for his mouth and speaks a language I’ll never understand.

Like the cartwheeling hermaphrodite of Aristophanes, he doesn’t have to walk, but rolls, rolls along on his many feet. Rolls and bounces, yellow and silly in the morning, orange and foolish in the afternoon – never quite asleep in the evening and when he turns a green that glows in the dark, he rolls and bounces along the ceiling over my head all night long.

Fernando Sorrentino - Argentine author, born 1942
… (lisätietoja)
Merkitty asiattomaksi
Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |

You May Also Like

Associated Authors


Also by
Arvio (tähdet)

Taulukot ja kaaviot