Claudia Piñeiro (Buenos Aires, 61 years old), the novelist of Thursday’s widow (Alfaguara, 2005), has lived through all the contemporary earthquakes and disasters in Argentina, until this pandemic. She was a girl when the dictatorship subjected society to the military boot, and in recent years she fought hard so that in her country there would finally be a law for abortion. The lash of the virus has deepened the successive Argentine endemic crises. Now he has just published his novel Cathedrals, where cruelty and religious fanaticism hide under false pretenses. To promote it, she has come to Spain, where she has received several awards as the author of a crime novel. This interview was done telematically, before she participated in the Black Week in Gijón, where she won the Dashiell Hammett award.
Question. Like in Abroad de Camus, his country, which was so prosperous that it helped postwar Spain survive, suffers so many crises that it seems to have knocked on the door of misfortune.
Answer. It is hard to think about the fate of countries and societies, especially when a virus disrupts everything so much. I always have the feeling that things are going to change, but I have little time left for that hope that Argentina will improve. This cycle started with the abortion law, which I fought so hard for, that we got it in times of a pandemic. That was good. Now it is difficult to get up so we have to wait for the pandemic to pass to give the chips of the future again.
P. At one time, Argentina lived off the wealth of Argentina.
R. There is a myth to that. They have also made us believe that we have a rich country, with four climates, country, city, wheat, meat … And the power of the world passes through other places. I do not know if we are a country as rich as we thought, because also wealth has to do with the position of power you have in the world to negotiate things. We have serious debt problems, with issues that only partly depend on us. Maybe we are not such a rich country and we have to work very hard to make it less poor. We should not relax with those ideas that have been put into us.
They have made us believe that we have a rich country, with four climates, country, city, wheat, meat … And the power of the world passes elsewhere
P. Do you have the feeling that these crises in Argentina threaten your country as in the time of the dictatorship?
R. The word dictatorship, precisely because we had one, we reserve it for very particular cases, like the one we had in the 1970s. Since then there has never been anything close to that, although we might like more or less some governments. I envy non-presidential democratic countries. You have a non-presidential system. I was there in two years when they couldn’t set up a government, and I wondered what would have happened in Argentina in such a case. Because here we are very dependent on the executive power. And you guys went ahead without a hitch. We would need a little more institutionality and a system less supported by the executive branch, which would work beyond the people. That would help improve some issues in the country. But we must bear in mind that we are young democracies, and this happens throughout Latin America. Two hundred years seems like a long time, but it is not so long for the consolidation of a country.
P. Your country is a modern country. How did it take so long to legalize abortion?
R. Not all Argentina is as modern as you think. Apart from that, the reason for this delay must be found in the interference of the Church in matters of State. Uruguay is the only country that has, with Cuba, abortion for a long time, and there is a separation of Church and State. Deputies and senators told us when we were going to do pro-abortion activism: “We agree, but when we go to our provinces the bishops will challenge us and speak ill of us in the churches.” When the current president, Alberto Fernández, went to see Pope Francis, there was speculation here that perhaps he was going to condemn him for having supported the abortion law … Think that not so long ago we had a bond divorce or equal marriage, with the Church always doing lobby against.
P. In Spain his works are associated with black literature, and there he receives awards. But his literature does not seem so black, rather multicolored.
R. When I start writing I don’t think: “I’m going to write a crime novel.” I am going to write a novel and I am looking for the language to tell what happens. I must admit that death is always present in my novels, although there is vitality in them, what I write has to do with life, full of enigma and therefore a search for truth. That is why there ends up having a police line in the novels. Even when sometimes I do not recognize myself in that genre, I feel disappointed those who look for it in my literature. The classic questions are “Who killed him? And because?”. My novels have other questions.
I must admit that death is always present in my novels, although there is vitality in them
P. What questions do you ask in Cathedrals?
R. This: “What is the crime behind the crime?” A girl appears, Ana, dead 30 years ago. And a character appears who says: “I killed her.” He killed her, he’s not covering up for someone else. The plot leads to the knowledge that this man is a refugee who got off a boat with his family, who lived in crowded conditions and he is forced to do that job to support it. Behind crime there are sometimes worlds like this, and in this novel I also wanted to make that world visible. Henning Mankell, Horace McCoy or Petros Márkaris tell stories that have those keys that not only narrate murders but also reflect what happens in society.
P. And this new novel underscores the importance of solidarity in defending causes.
R. Speaking with Mexican colleague Guillermo Arriaga, he said a phrase that I do not forget: every society has the crimes it tolerates. The characters in this novel have to assume what they did not do so that Ana would not suffer this crime. Sometimes in society we have to assume that change involves all of us. It is very evident with gender violence. Not many years ago our parents told us to shut up if we heard screams of violence in the house next door. Today we call the police.
P. 11 years ago Soledad Gallego-Diaz said of you: “Claudia Piñeiro does not have a great opinion of adults.” Is it still like this?
R. I always look for chiaroscuro in adults, and many times my adult characters have darker than light. In almost all my novels I have a teenager who can see the world more clearly than adults. Generally he is the one who is considered the rare one, because he is the one who is marking where the cracks are. On the other hand, with adults I like to mark those contradictions, those dark ones.