Papers in the Wind by Eduardo Sacheri

The Secret In their Eyes , a crime novel from Argentinean author Eduardo Sacheri, was made into an excellent film. I saw the 2009 film first–and I suspect that the film’s success prompted the book’s translation into English. The Secret in their Eyes is the story of Benjamin, an Argentinean clerk who formerly worked in an office which investigated crime, and now in retirement, Benjamin begins writing the story of a decades-old crime that haunts him still. The film version featured one of my favourite actors, Ricardo Darin as the sensitive, troubled Benjamin, and I mention Darin as I also imagined him playing Fernando,  one of the characters in Papers in the Wind, the second novel by Sacheri to be translated into English.

While The Secret In Their Eyes is a crime novel which delves into Argentina’s Dirty War, the novel also is partly about the friendship between two men.  Papers in the Wind explores the friendship between four men and what happens when one of them dies of pancreatic cancer, but the novel is not just about friendship; it’s also about letting go of one’s dreams and accepting middle-aged reality & regrets.

papers in the windWhen Mono dies of cancer, he leaves behind a daughter, Guadalupe who lives with Mono’s bitter, angry ex-wife, Lourdes. Mono didn’t have much of a legacy to pass on, but he did ‘invest’ in a soccer player, Pittilanga, a young man whose transfer was purchased by Mono with his severance pay of 300,000 pesos. According to the advice Mono received from a possibly questionable source,  Pittilanga was supposed to be a promising player, and Mono, once a soccer hopeful himself, expected to see a big return on his investment when one of the top teams purchased Pittilanga’s transfer. But now Mono is dead, and Pittilanga is still on a team “out in the sticks,” and due to his continued poor performance–not exactly helped by his weight gain–he’ll probably soon be booted even off of this  bottom-rung team. Then it’s back to his village and a dead-end job for the rest of his life.

Mono died with “practically nothing in the bank,” and Mono’s brother, teacher Fernando, feels obligated to recoup Mono’s investment in Pittilanga with the plan to use the money for Guadalupe’s future. He asks Mono’s childhood friends, serial failed businessman Ruso, and materialistic lawyer, Mauricio to help. Ruso, who shared Mono’s enthusiasm for the soccer player scheme in the first place, is only too happy to be involved, but Mauricio sees it as a lost cause and offers minimal help.

While the plot concerns the friends’ efforts to recoup and sell Pittilanga as a promising young soccer player, most of the novel delves into the relationships between these four very different men. The chapters alternate between past and present, so the story begins with Mono’s funeral, and then moves forward to the problem with Pittilanga. Every other chapter then traces the back story of how Mono decided to take his severance pay, how he dealt with his diagnosis & the series of failed cancer treatments. Unfortunately, this is the weakest part of the book. At first these chapters have some sort of point–there’s one good segment when Mono meets an oncologist whose treatment of his patient is so inhumane Mono’s friends almost cause a riot, but the merits of these short chapters quickly fade as Mono’s options whittle down, and we begin to follow his death with pointless chapters such as this:

Hey, Fer …”

“What Mono.”

“I asked you a question.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

I asked you if you don’t console me because I asked you not to, or because you think I’m done for.”

“And?”

“the truth.”

“of course.”

“Both.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“…”

This is about half of one of those backstory chapters, and when these chapters begin to replay the last times Fernando and Mono spent together, during Mono’s treatments and end stage, some of the conversation is relevant, but most of it isn’t, and I do not understand the constant appearance of the “..”.  This would have been a better novel with the back story just cut back to Mono’s purchase of Pittilanga’s transfer, the diagnosis and aftermath. As written, we move forward with one chapter and then move back into these chapters of private moments between Fernando and his brother. The constant  “…” felt like someone had censored the more sensitive exchanges.

The novel’s strength comes from its characterizations. Ruso and Mono have a symbiotic relationship; they are both dreamers, and their enthusiasm feeds off of each other. When Mono comes up with this scheme to buy a soccer player’s transfer, eternal optimist Ruso, with a long history of failed business ventures, is all for it. Fernando understands that part of Mono’s dream includes memories of his brother’s thwarted desires to become a world-class soccer player; there’s “an element of revenge, of outstanding debt.” Also well conveyed is the character of Mauricio. Fernando doesn’t particularly like Mauricio, and while Fernando recognizes that Mono wanted to involved himself in the world of soccer any way possible, he lacks the insight to see that some of his dislike of Mauricio is based on the lawyer’s material success. These men grew up in the same neighbourhood, but their lives all took different paths, and Fernando sometimes ponders just how much their characters say about their success or failure. Ruso, who holds playstation tournaments with his employees during business hours at the car wash, seems oblivious to the idea of money and success. Obsessive Fernando, however, often knocks his own status and mulls over exactly why Mauricio is so successful. There’s a buried resentment and envy there that Fernando doesn’t recognize and which is layered with antagonism.

But what of the women in the story? Mauricio has a high-maintenance wife, Mariel, whose good looks are due in no small part to her pampered life style and the wonders of plastic surgery. Mono’s “testy” ex, Lourdes, seethes with resentment and hate for her ex–dead or not, and Ruso’s long-suffering wife, Mónica, is driven to desperate pleas when her husband’s feckless ways threaten to bring the roof down on their heads.

Fernando thanks him and thinks, as always, that Ruso is a real case. Since they finished high school he has set up an infinite number of businesses, all on his own, all preceded by fantastic predictions of “this is a surefire business” and “I’m going to wear out my shoes walking to the bank.” And all them buried, sooner or later, in debts and failure. Fernando and Mono talked about the issue, more than once. Because Ruso’s surefire knack for missing he mark in his investments seemed forced, as if he were intentionally avoiding success. Mono claimed that Ruso’s problem was questions of timing: all the businesses that he thought up were sound, but two years before Ruso  got involved with them. By the time Ruso considered them, and put all his hopes and his shrinking pesos into them, they were on their way out. Fernando , for his part, didn’t know whether to be sorry about the fact that Ruso, when he left high school, had been able to count on a modest fortune his father and grandfather had amassed in their leather workshop in Móron. On the one hand, that money had financed only failure after failure. On the other, it still allowed Ruso, his wife, and his daughters to eat every day.

 Translated by Mara Faye Lethem. Review copy.

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21 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Sacheri Eduardo

21 responses to “Papers in the Wind by Eduardo Sacheri

  1. Tony

    I agree with what you say about the two strands – towards the end, the backstory just gets in the way of the main plot (which is a good one…).

  2. The “…..” Sequences are rather odd. I wonder of they are meant to represent the silences that happen when the subject is a painful one?

  3. Yes, too bad isn’t it? I didn’t know you’d read this one.

  4. The characterisation sounds great, but what a shame about the style and focus of the backstory.

    I might take a look at ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ as I liked the film very much. I agree with you about Ricardo Darin; he’s an excellent actor, and I’ll usually go and see a film if he’s in the cast. I first came across Darin in ‘Nine Queens’ which I guess you’ve seen, but if not it’s well worth a look.

    • There’s something about Darin… he can play the wounded damage soul so well. yes, I’ve seen Nine Queens. He was also great in The Aura, and I recently caught him in Thesis on a Homicide which was a fascinating film. It based on a book I wish someone would translate and publish.

      • That’s a great description for the type of characters Darin tends to suit – the wounded damaged soul. I haven’t seen ‘Thesis on a Homicide,’ so I’ll try to get hold of it on DVD. Thank you. I think it screened at a film festival in London, but I didn’t catch it at the time.

        The last couple of Darin’s films I saw were ‘Carancho’ and ‘White Elephant.’ There’s just something about his screen presence – even if the film itself is somewhat flawed, he seems to bring something interesting to it.

        • At the time, I thought Thesis on a Homicide had a dissatisfactory ending, but I’ve thought about the film a lot since. In the Aura, he plays a man who has seizures.

          I’ve seen Carancho which I liked and White Elephant. Just got my hands on a copy of The Dancer and The Thief which I haven’t watched yet. You’re right, he always brings something to the film.

  5. I’ve got The Secret in Their Eyes after having watched the movie. I really need to read it. I’m less sure about this one. Some of it looks like mannerism.

  6. So Mono died of cancer and had a wife called Lourdes. No miracle, there, then? (For a French it’s an unfortunate choice of a name)

    Given the Soccer Worldcup happening at the moment and all the fuss around it –Life should stop when a game is on TV, it seems– I’m not sure I’d want to read anything involving football.

  7. Sounds good but wasted pages in a novel can really ruin the entire package.

    The “..” thing is interesting. I agree with Bookertalk that they likely involve unsaid things within silences but it is still a strange way to convey that.

  8. Given the problem with the strands Secrets sounds the one to start with. The author sounds worth following, but this clearly isn’t his best.

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