Sensini by Roberto Bolaño

BOMB 95 Spring 2006
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The way in which my friendship with Sensini developed was somewhat unusual. At the time I was 20-something and poorer than a church mouse. I was living on the outskirts of Girona, in a dilapidated house that my sister and brother-in-law had left me when they moved to Mexico, and I had just lost my job as a night watchman in a Barcelona camping ground, a job that had exacerbated my tendency not to sleep at night. I had practically no friends and all I did was write and go for long walks, starting at seven in the evening, just after getting up, with a feeling like jet lag, an odd sensation of fragility, of being there and not there, somehow distant from my surroundings. I was living on what I had saved during the summer, and although I spent very little, my savings dwindled as autumn drew on. Perhaps that was what prompted me to enter the Alcoy National Literature Competition, open to writers in Spanish, whatever their nationality or place of residence. There were three categories: for poems, stories, and essays. First I thought about going in for the poetry prize, but I felt it would be demeaning to send what I did best into the ring with the lions (or hyenas). Then I thought about the essay, but when they sent me the conditions, I discovered that it had to be about Alcoy, its environs, its history, its eminent sons, its future prospects, and I couldn’t face it. So I decided to enter for the story prize, sent off three copies of the best one I had (not that I had many), and sat down to wait.

When the winners were announced I was working as a vendor in a handcrafts market where absolutely no one was selling any handcrafts. I won fourth prize and ten thousand pesetas, which the Alcoy Council paid with scrupulous promptitude. Shortly afterwards I received the anthology, with the winning story and those of the six finalists, liberally peppered with typographical errors. Naturally my story was better than the winner’s, so I cursed the judges and told myself, Well, what can you expect? But the real surprise was coming across the name Luis Antonio Sensini, the Argentinean writer, who had won third prize with a story in which the narrator went away to the country where his son died, or went away to the country because his son had died in the city—it was hard to tell—in any case, out there in the country, on the bare plains, the narrator’s son went on dying, that much was clear. It was a claustrophobic story, very much in Sensini’s manner, set in a world where vast geographical spaces could suddenly shrink to the dimensions of a coffin, and it was better than the winning story and the one that came second, as well as those that came fourth, fifth, and sixth.

I don’t know what moved me to ask the Alcoy Council for Sensini’s address. I had read one of his novels and some of his stories in Latin American magazines. The novel was the kind of book that circulates by word of mouth. Entitled Ugarte, it was about a series of moments in the life of Juan de Ugarte, a bureaucrat in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata at the end of the 18th Century. Some, mainly Spanish, critics had dismissed it as Kafka in the colonies, but gradually the novel had made its way, and by the time I came across Sensini’s name in the Alcoy anthology, Ugarte had recruited a small group of devoted readers, scattered around Latin America and Spain, most of whom knew each other, either as friends or as gratuitously bitter enemies. He had published other books, of course, in Argentina, and with Spanish publishers who had since gone to the wall, and he belonged to that intermediate generation of Argentinean writers, born in the ’20s, after Cortázar, Bioy, Sàbato and Mújica Laínez, a generation whose best known representative (to me, back then, at any rate) was Haroldo Conti, who disappeared in one of the special camps set up by Videla and his henchmen during the dictatorship. It was a generation (although perhaps I am using the word too loosely) that hadn’t come to much, but not for want of brilliance or talent: followers of Roberto Arlt, journalists, teachers, and translators, in a sense they foreshadowed what was to come, in their own sad and skeptical way, which led them one by one to the abyss.

I had a soft spot for those writers. In years gone by, I had read Abelardo Castillo’s plays and the stories of Daniel Moyano and Rodolfo Walsh (who was killed under the dictatorship, like Conti). I read their work piecemeal, whatever I could find in Argentinean, Mexican, or Cuban magazines, or the second-hand bookshops of Mexico City: pirated anthologies of Buenos Aires writing, probably the best writing in Spanish of the 20th Century. They were part of that tradition, and although, of course, they didn’t have the stature of Borges or Cortázar, and were soon overtaken by Manuel Puig and Osvaldo Soriano, their concise, intelligent texts were a constant source of complicit delight. Needless to say, my favorite was Sensini, and having been his fellow place-getter in a provincial literary competition, an association that I found at once flattering and profoundly depressing, encouraged me to make contact with him, to pay my respects and tell him how much his work meant to me.

The Alcoy Council promptly sent me his address—he lived in Madrid—and one night, after dinner or a light meal or just a snack, I wrote him a long letter, which rambled from Ugarteand the stories of his that I had read in magazines to myself, my house on the outskirts of Girona, the competition (I made fun of the winner), the political situation in Chile and in Argentina (both dictatorships were still firmly in place), Walsh’s stories (along with Sensini Walsh was my other favorite in that generation), life in Spain and life in general. To my surprise, I received a reply from him barely a week later. He began by thanking me for my letter; he said that the Alcoy council had sent him the anthology too but that, unlike me, he hadn’t found time to look at the winning story or those of the other finalists (later on, in a passing reference, he admitted that it wasn’t so much a lack of time as a lack of “fortitude”), although he had just read mine and thought it well done, “a first-rate story,” he said (I have kept the letter), and he urged me to persevere, not, as I thought at first, to persevere with my writing, but to persevere with the competitions, as he intended to do himself, so he assured me. He went on to ask me which competitions were “looming on the horizon,” imploring me to notify him as soon as I heard of one. In exchange he sent me the conditions of entry for two short story competitions, one in Plasencia and the other in Écija, with prizes of 25 thousand and 30 thousand pesetas, respectively. He had tracked these down, as I later discovered, in Madrid newspapers or magazines whose mere existence was a crime or a miracle, depending on your point of view. There was still time for me to enter both competitions and Sensini finished his letter on a curiously enthusiastic note, as if the pair of us were on our marks for a race that, as well as being hard and meaningless, would have no end. “Pen to paper now, no shirking!” he wrote.

I remember thinking, What a strange letter. I remember reading a few chapters of Ugarte. Around that time the travelling booksellers came to Girona to set up their stalls in the square where the cinemas are, laying out their mostly unsaleable stock: remaindered books published by companies that had recently gone bankrupt; books printed during the Second World War; romance and wild west novels; collections of postcards. At one of the stalls I found a book of stories by Sensini and bought it. It was as good as new—in fact it was new, one of those titles that publishers sell off to the travelling stall-holders when no one else can move it, when there’s not a bookshop or a distributor left who’s willing to take it on—and for the following week I lived and breathed Sensini. I read his letter over and over, leafed through Ugarte, and when I felt like some action, something new, I turned to the stories. Although the themes and situations varied, the settings were generally rural, and the protagonists were the fabled horsemen of the pampa, that is to say, armed and generally unfortunate individuals, either loners or endowed with a peculiar notion of sociability. Whereas Ugarte was a cold book, written with neurosurgical precision, the collection of stories was all warmth: brave and aimless characters adrift in landscapes that seemed to be gradually drawing away from the reader (sometimes taking the reader with them).

I didn’t manage to get an entry in for the Plasencia competition, but I did for the Écija one. As soon as I had posted off the copies of my story (under the pseudonym Aloysius Acker), I realized that sitting around waiting for the results could only make things worse. So I decided to look for more competitions; that way at least I’d be able to comply with Sensini’s request. Over the next few days, when I went down to Girona, I spent hours looking through back copies of newspapers in search of announcements. Some papers put them in a column next to the society news; in others, they came after the crime reports and before the sports section; the most serious paper had them wedged between the weather and the obituaries. They were never in the book pages, of course. In my search I discovered a magazine put out by the Catalonian government, which, along with advertisements for scholarships, exchanges, jobs, and postgraduate courses, published announcements of literary competitions, mostly for Catalans writing in Catalan, but there were some exceptions. I soon found three for which Sensini and I were eligible, and they were still open, so I wrote him a letter.

Like the first time, I received a reply by return mail. Sensini’s letter was short. He answered some of my questions, mainly about the book of stories I had recently bought, and included photocopies of the details for three more short story competitions, one of which was sponsored by the National Railway Company, with a tidy sum for the winner and 50,000 pesetas per head (as he put it) for the 10 finalists: no prize for dreaming, you have to be in it to win it. I wrote back saying I didn’t have enough stories for all six competitions, but most of my letter was about other things (in fact I got rather carried away): travel, lost love, Walsh, Conti, Francisco Urondo … I asked him about Gelman, whom he was bound to know, gave him a summary of my life story, and somehow ended up going on about the tango and labyrinths, as I always do with Argentineans (it’s something Chileans are prone to).

Sensini’s reply was prompt and voluble, at least as far as writing and competitions were concerned. On one sheet, recto and verso, single-spaced, he set out a kind of general strategy for the pursuit of provincial literary prizes. I speak from experience, he wrote. The letter began with a blessing on the prizes (whether in earnest or in jest, I have never been able to tell), as precious supplements to the writer’s modest income. He referred to the sponsors—local councils and credit unions—as “those good people with their touching faith in literature” and “those disinterested and dutiful readers.” He entertained no illusions, however, about the erudition of the “good people” in question, who presumably exercised their touching faith on the ephemeral anthologies (or not). He told me I must compete for as many prizes as possible, although he suggested I take the precaution of changing a story’s title if I was entering it for, say, three competitions that were due to be judged around the same time. He cited the example of his story “At Dawn,” a story I didn’t know, which he had used to test his method, as a guinea pig is used to test the effects of a new vaccine. For the first competition, with the biggest prize, “At Dawn” was entered as “At Dawn”; for the second, he changed the title to “The Gauchos”; for the third, it was called “The Other Pampa”; and for the last, “No Regrets.” Of these four, it won the second and the fourth, and with the money from the prizes he was able to pay a month and half’s rent (in Madrid the rents had gone through the roof). Of course no one realized that “The Gauchos” and “No Regrets” were the same story with different titles, although there was always the risk that one of the judges might have read the story in another competition (in Spain the peculiar occupation of judging literary prizes was obstinately monopolized by a clique of minor poets and novelists, plus former laureates). The little world of letters is terrible as well as ridiculous, he wrote. And he added that even if one’s story did come before the same judge twice, the danger was minimal, since they generally didn’t read the entries or only skimmed through them. Furthermore, who was to say that “The Gauchos” and “No Regrets” were not two different stories whose singularity resided precisely in their respective titles? Similar, very similar even, but different. Toward the end of the letter he said that of course, in a perfect world, he would be otherwise occupied, living and writing in Buenos Aires, for example, but the way things were, he had to earn a crust somehow (I’m not sure they say that in Argentina; we do in Chile) and, for now, the competitions were helping him to get by. It’s like a lesson in Spanish geography, he wrote. At the end, or maybe in a postscript, he declared: I’m going on for 60, but I feel as if I were 25. At first this struck me as very sad, but when I read it for the second or third time I realized it was his way of asking me: How old are you, kid? I remember I replied immediately. I told him I was 28, three years older than him. That morning I felt not exactly happy again but more alive, as if an infusion of energy were reanimating my sense of humor and my memory.

Although I didn’t follow Sensini’s advice and become a full-time prize hunter, I did enter for the competitions he and I had recently discovered, without any success. Sensini pulled off another double in Don Benito and Écija, with a story originally called “The Sabre,” renamed “Two Swords” for Écija and “The Deepest Cut” for Don Benito. And in the competition sponsored by the Railways he was one of the finalists. As well as a cash sum, he won a ticket that entitled him to free travel on Spanish trains for a year.

Little by little I learned more about him. He lived in a flat in Madrid with his wife and his daughter, Miranda, who was 17 years old. He had a son, from his first marriage, who had gone to ground somewhere in Latin America, or that was what he wanted to believe. The son’s name was Gregorio; he was 35 and had worked as a journalist. Sometimes Sensini would tell me about the inquiries he was making through human rights organizations and the European Union in an attempt to determine Gregorio’s whereabouts. When he got on to this subject, his prose became heavy and monotonous, as if he were trying to exorcise his ghosts by describing the bureaucratic labyrinth. I haven’t lived with Gregorio, he once told me, since he was five years old, just a kid. He didn’t elaborate, but I imagined a five-year-old boy and Sensini typing in a newspaper office: even then it was already too late. I also wondered about the boy’s name and somehow came to the conclusion that it must have been an unconscious homage to Gregor Samsa. Of course I never mentioned this to Sensini. When he got on to the subject of Miranda he cheered up. Miranda was young and ready to take on the world, insatiably curious, pretty, too, and kind. She looks like Gregorio, he wrote, except that (obviously) she’s a girl and she has been spared what my son had to go through.

Gradually, Sensini’s letters grew longer. The district where he lived in Madrid was run down; his flat had two bedrooms, a dining-room-cum-living-room, a kitchen and a bathroom. At first I was surprised to discover that his place was smaller than mine; then I felt ashamed. It seemed unfair. Sensini wrote in the dining room, at night, “when the wife and the girl are asleep,” and he was a heavy smoker. He earned his living doing some kind of work for a publisher (I think he edited translations) and sending his stories out to do battle in the provinces. Every now and then he received a royalty check for one of his many books, but most of the publishers were chronically forgetful or had gone broke. The only book that went on selling well was Ugarte, which had been published by a company in Barcelona. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was living in poverty: not destitution, but the genteel poverty of a middle-class family fallen on hard times. His wife (her name was Carmela Zadjman, a story in itself) did freelance work for publishers and gave English, French, and Hebrew lessons, although she had occasionally been obliged to take on cleaning jobs. The daughter was busy with her studies and would soon be going to university. In one of my letters I asked Sensini whether Miranda wanted to be a writer too. He wrote back: No, thank God, she’s going to study medicine.

One night I wrote and asked for a photo of his family. Only after putting the letter in the mail did I realize that what I really wanted was to see what Miranda looked like. A week later I received a photo, no doubt taken in the Retiro, which showed an old man and a middle-aged woman next to a tall, slim adolescent girl with straight hair and very large breasts. The old man was smiling happily, the middle-aged woman was looking at her daughter, as if saying something to her, and Miranda was facing the photographer with a serious look that I found both moving and disturbing. Sensini also sent me a photocopy of another photo, showing a young man more or less my age, with sharp features, very thin lips, prominent cheekbones, and a broad forehead. He was strongly built and probably tall, and he was gazing at the camera (it was a studio photo) with a confident and perhaps slightly impatient expression. It was Gregorio Sensini, at the age of 22, before he disappeared, quite a bit younger than I was, in fact, but he had an air of experience that made him seem older.

The photo and the photocopy lived on my desk for a long time. I would sit there staring at them or take them to the bedroom and look at them until I fell asleep. Sensini had asked me to send a photograph of myself. I didn’t have a recent one, so I decided to go to the photo booth in the station, which at the time was the only photo booth in the whole of Girona. But I didn’t like the way the photos came out. I thought I looked ugly and skinny and scruffy-haired. So I kept putting off sending the photo and going back to spend more money at the photo booth. Finally I chose one at random, put it in an envelope with a postcard and sent it to him. It was a while before I received a reply. In the meantime I remember I wrote a very long, very bad poem, full of voices and faces that seemed different at first, but all belonged to Miranda Sensini, and when, in the poem, I finally realized this and could put it into words, when I could say to her, Miranda, it’s me, your father’s friend and correspondent, she turned around and ran off in search of her brother, Gregorio Samsa, in search of Gregorio Samsa’s eyes, shining at the end of a dim corridor in which the shadowy masses of Latin America’s terror were shifting imperceptibly.

The reply, when it came, was long and friendly. Sensini and Carmela’s verdict on my photo was positive: they thought I looked nice, like they imagined me, a bit on the skinny side maybe, but fit and well, and they liked the postcard of the Girona cathedral, which they hoped to see for themselves in the near future, as soon as they had sorted out a few financial and household problems. It was clear that they were hoping to stay at my place when they came. In return they offered to put me up whenever I wanted to go to Madrid. It’s a modest flat, and it isn’t clean either, wrote Sensini, imitating a comic-strip gaucho who was famous in South America at the beginning of the ’70s. He didn’t say anything about his literary projects. Nor did he mention the competitions.

At first I thought of sending Miranda my poem, but after much hesitation and soul-searching I decided not to. I must be going mad, I thought, if I sent her that poem, there’d be no more letters from Sensini, and who could blame him? So I didn’t send it. For awhile I applied myself to the search for new literary prizes. In one of his letters Sensini said he was worried that he might have done his dash. I misunderstood; I thought he meant he was running out of competitions to enter.

I wrote back to say they must come to Girona; he and Carmela were most welcome to stay at my house. I even spent several days cleaning, sweeping, mopping, and dusting, having convinced myself (quite unreasonably) that they might turn up at any moment, with Miranda. Since they had the free ticket they would only have to buy two, and Catalonia, I stressed, was full of wonderful things to see and do. I mentioned Barcelona, Olot, the Costa Brava, talked about the happy days we could spend together. In a long reply, thanking me for my invitation, Sensini said that for the moment they couldn’t leave Madrid. Unlike any of the preceding letters, this one was rather confused, although in the middle he returned to the theme of prizes (I think he had won again) and encouraged me not to give up, to keep on entering. He also said something about the writer’s trade or profession, and I had the impression that his words were meant partly for me and partly for himself, as a kind of reminder. The rest, as I said, was a muddle. When I got to the end I had the feeling that someone in his family wasn’t well.

Two or three months later Sensini wrote to tell me that one of the bodies in a recently discovered mass grave was probably Gregorio’s. His letter was restrained. There was no outpouring of grief; all he said was that on a certain day, at a certain time, a group of forensic pathologists and members of human rights organizations had opened a mass grave containing the bodies of more than 50 young people, etc. For the first time, I didn’t want to reply in writing. I would have liked to ring him, but I don’t think he had a telephone, and if he did I didn’t know the number. My letter was brief. I said I was sorry, and ventured to point out that they still didn’t know for sure that the body was Gregorio’s.

Summer came and I started working in a hotel on the coast. In Madrid that summer there were numerous lectures, courses, and all sorts of cultural activities, but Sensini didn’t participate in any of them, or if he did, it wasn’t mentioned in the newspaper I was reading.

At the end of August I sent him a card. I said that maybe at the end of the season I would visit him. That was all. When I got back to Girona, in the middle of September, in the small pile of letters that had been slipped under the door, I found one from Sensini dated the seventh of August. He had written to say good-bye. He was going back to Argentina; with the return of democracy he would be safe now, so there was no point staying away any longer. And it was the only way he would be able to find out for sure what had happened to Gregorio. Carmela, of course, is returning with me, he said, but Miranda will stay. I wrote to him immediately, at the only address I had, but received no reply.

Gradually I came to accept that Sensini had gone back to Argentina for good and that, unless he wrote to me again, our correspondence had come to an end. I waited a long time for a letter from him, or so it seems to me now, looking back. The letter, of course, never came. I tried to tell myself that life in Buenos Aires must be hectic, an explosion of activity, hardly time to breathe or blink. I wrote to him again at the Madrid address, hoping that the letter would be sent on to Miranda, but a month later it was returned to me marked “not known at this address.” So I gave up and let the days go by and gradually forgot about Sensini, although on my rare visits to Barcelona I would sometimes spend whole afternoons in second-hand bookshops looking for his other books, the ones I knew by their titles but was destined never to read. All I could find in the shops were old copies of Ugarte and the collection of stories published in Barcelona by a company that had recently gone into receivership, as if to send a message to Sensini (and to me).

One or two years later I found out that he had died. I think I read it in a newspaper, I don’t know which one. Or maybe I didn’t read it; maybe someone told me, but I can’t remember talking with anyone who knew him around that time, so I probably did read the death notice somewhere. It was brief, as I remember it: the Argentinean writer Luis Antonio Sensini, who lived for several years in exile in Spain, had died in Buenos Aires. I think there was also a mention of Ugarte at the end. I don’t know why, but it didn’t come as a surprise. I don’t know why, but it seemed logical that Sensini would go back to Buenos Aires to die.

Some time later, when the photo of Sensini, Carmela, and Miranda and the photocopied image of Gregorio were packed away with my other memories in a cardboard box that I still haven’t committed to the flames for reasons I prefer not to expand upon here, there was a knock at the door of my house. It must have been about midnight, but I was awake. It gave me a shock all the same. I knew only a few people in Girona and none of them would have turned up like that unless something out of the ordinary had happened. When I opened the door there was a woman with long hair, wearing a big black overcoat. It was Miranda Sensini, although she had changed a good deal in the years since her father had sent me the photo. Next to her was a tall young man with long blond hair and an aquiline nose. I’m Miranda Sensini, she said to me with a smile. I know, I said, and invited them in. They were on their way to Italy; after that they planned to cross the Adriatic to Greece. Since they didn’t have much money they were hitching rides. They slept in my house that night. I made them something to eat. The young man was called Sebastian Cohen and he had been born in Argentina too, although he had lived in Madrid since he was a child. He helped me prepare the meal while Miranda looked around the house. Have you known her for long? he asked. Until a moment ago, I’d only seen her in a photo, I replied.

After dinner, I set them up in one of the rooms and said they could go to bed whenever they wanted. I thought about going to bed myself, but realized it would be hard, if not impossible, to sleep, so I gave them awhile to get settled, then went downstairs and put on the television with the volume down low and sat there thinking about Sensini.

Soon I heard someone on the stairs. It was Miranda. She couldn’t get to sleep either. She sat down next to me and asked for a cigarette. At first we talked about their trip, Girona (they had been in the city all day, but I didn’t ask why they had come to my house so late), and the cities they were planning to visit in Italy. Then we talked about her father and her brother. According to Miranda, Sensini never got over Gregorio’s death. He went back to look for him, although we all knew he was dead. Carmela too? I asked. He was the only one who hadn’t accepted it, she said. I asked her how things had gone in Argentina. Same as here, same as in Madrid, said Miranda, same as everywhere. But he was well known and loved in Argentina, I said. Same as here, she said. I got a bottle of cognac from the kitchen and offered her a drink. You’re crying, she said. When I looked at her she turned away. Were you writing? she asked. No, I was watching TV. No, I mean when we arrived. Yes, I said. Stories? No, poems. Ah, said Miranda. For a long time we sat there drinking in silence, watching the black and white images on the television screen. Tell me something, I said, Why did your father choose the name Gregorio? Because of Kafka, of course, said Miranda. Gregor Samsa? Of course, she said. I thought so, I said. Then Miranda told me the story of Sensini’s last months in Buenos Aires.

He was already sick when he left Madrid, against the advice of various Argentinean doctors, who never billed him and had even arranged hospital treatment on the National Health Scheme a couple of times. Returning to Buenos Aires was a painful and happy experience. In the first week he started taking steps to locate Gregorio. He wanted to go back to his job at the university, but what with the bureaucratic procedures and the inevitable jealousies and bitterness, it wasn’t going to happen, so he had to make do with translating for a couple of publishing houses. Carmela, however, got a teaching position and toward the end they lived exclusively on her earnings. Each week Sensini wrote to Miranda. He knew he didn’t have long to go, she said, and sometimes it was like he was impatient, like he wanted to use up the last of his strength and get it over with. As for Gregorio, there was nothing conclusive. Some of the pathologists thought his bones might have been in the pile exhumed from the mass grave, but to be sure they would have to do a DNA test, and the government didn’t have the money or didn’t really want the tests done, so they kept being postponed. Sensini also went searching for a girl who had probably been Greg’s girlfriend when he was in hiding, but he couldn’t find her either. Then his health deteriorated and he had to go into the hospital. He didn’t even write after that, said Miranda. It had always been very important to him, writing every day, whatever else was happening. Yes, I said, that’s the way he was. I asked her if he’d found any competitions to enter in Buenos Aires. Miranda looked at me and smiled. Of course! You were the one he used to enter the competitions with; he met you through a competition. Then it struck me: the reason she had my address was simply that she had all her father’s addresses, and she had only just realized who I was. That’s me, I said. Miranda poured me out some more cognac and said there was a year when her father used to talk about me quite a lot. I noticed she was looking at me differently. I must have annoyed him so much, I said. Annoyed him? You’re kidding; he loved your letters. He always read them to mum and me. I hope they were funny, I said, without much conviction. They were really funny, said Miranda, my mother even gave you guys a name. A name? Which guys? Dad and you. She called you the gunslingers or the bounty hunters, I can’t remember now, something like that, or the scalpers. I see, I said, but the real bounty hunter was your father. I just passed on some information. Yes, he was a professional, said Miranda, suddenly serious. How many prizes did he win all up? I asked her. About 15, she said with an absent look. And you? So far just the one, I said. A place in the Alcoy competition, that’s how I got to know your father. Did you know that Borges wrote to him once in Madrid, to say how much he liked one of his stories? No, I didn’t know, I said. And Cortázar wrote about him, and Mujica Lainez too. Well, he was a very good writer, I said. Jesus! said Miranda, then got up and went out onto the terrace as if I had said something to offend her. I let a few seconds go by, picked up the bottle of cognac and followed her. Miranda was leaning on the balustrade, looking at the lights of Girona. You have a good view from here, she said. I filled her glass, then my own, and we stood there for a while looking at the moonlit city. Suddenly I realized that we were at peace, that for some mysterious reason the two of us had reached a state of peace, and that from now on, imperceptibly, things would begin to change. As if the world really was shifting. I asked her how old she was. Twenty-two, she said. I must be over 30 then, I said, and even my voice sounded different.

Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews.

Chris Andrews is a lecturer in the School of Languages at the University of Melbourne. His translation of Roberto Bolaño’s Distant Star (New Directions, 2004) won the 2005 TLS Vallé-lnclan Prize. Andrews also won a 2005 PEN Translation Fund Award for Bolaño’s Last Evenings on Earth. In addition to Bolaño and César Aira, Andrews has also translated Luis Sepulveda and Ana Briongos.


—Roberto Bolaño was born in Santiago, Chile in 1953, and moved to Mexico City with his family in 1968. Bolaño went back to Chile in 1973 to “help build socialism” (as he wrote in his story “Dance Card”), but less than a month after his return, the army seized power. He was arrested and imprisoned in Concepción. After Bolaño’s release, he returned to Mexico before moving to Paris and then on to Barcelona. Winner of many prizes, including the Premio Herralde de Novela and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos, Bolaño wrote nine novels, two story collections and five books of poetry. He died on July 15, 2003, at the age of 50.


This story won the City of San Sebastian Narrative Prize, sponsored by the Kutxa Foundation.

“Sensini” will be published (in association with The Harvill Press, Random House UK) by New Directions in May 2006 in Last Evenings on Earth & Other Stories (© 2002 by Anagrama, and translation © 2006 by Chris Andrews), and appears here courtesy of New Directions.

Cristina Peri Rossi by Carmen Boullosa
Perirossi 3 Body

Crazy people tend to have lots of talent. It must be a sort of compensation.

Five Poems by Raúl Gómez Jattin
The Dance of the Hippos by Mempo Giardinelli

Mempo Giardinelli and I read together last year at Harbourfront in Toronto. Giardinelli’s ready humor and warmth belie the ten difficult years he lived in exile from his home, Argentina—especially from his birthplace, Resistencia, in the Chaco.

Originally published in

BOMB 95, Spring 2006

Interviews Dana Schutz, Harrell Fletcher, Tacita Dean and Jeffrey Eugenides, Frederic Tuten and Bernard Henri-Lévy, Lynne Tillman and Paula Fox, Judd Ne’eman and Janet Burstein, Charles Atlas, and Marsha Norman and Adam Rapp.

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