© Alejandra López
Martín Kohan was born in Buenos Aires in 1967. He has so far published several novels, short stories and a study of Eva Perón in collaboration with Paola Cortés Rocca. Kohan is known as a writer of articles in scientific and other media. He teaches literature at the University of Buenos Aires.
From what age onwards can one start to torture a child? In Dos veces junio (“June, twice”), when returning to his office, a young recruit finds this question written on a notepad conveniently placed beside his telephone. The nameless first-person narrator, chauffeur of Dr. Mesiano, a military doctor, gives no thought to the content of the question. Yet the matter proves to be urgent, and only his revered boss can resolve it. It is June 1978, and Argentina is suffering under a dictatorship.
Four years later the narrator has become a medical student and his suspicions are confirmed: the child Dr. Mesiano’s sister is bringing up as her son, is in fact the son of a woman prisoner he had met at a torture centre. Kohan provides this information subtly, as if in passing, and it is his great skill to have avoided the role of plaintiff. Instead of displaying the nightmare of dictatorship, he merely hints at it. He drives the action on by maintaining the tension to the very end. The many small insertions about apparent trivialities - anecdotes about the military, details about a soccer team, technical data on bathroom weighing scales - merge to form a coherent whole, and in doing so, divide the text into short numbered chapters which make rational thought seem absurd, while at the same time functioning as page-turners.
The key event in the novel Segundos afuera (2005) also has to do with sport. In 1973 the local newspaper in Trelew, a small town in Patagonia, celebrates its 50th anniversary, and each section is given the task of reporting on an event that took place in 1923, the newspaper's inauguration year.
The sports editor Verani and the cultural reporter Ledesma soon come up with their themes. That year, a boxing match took place in New York which caused a bit of a sensation: although the Argentinean, Firpo, boxed his opponent, reigning champion Dempsey from the US, out of the ring, but was not declared the winner after ten seconds according to the regulation. Instead, Dempsey came to after seventeen seconds and won the match.
Ledesma, by contrast, is completely taken by a guest performance that year in Buenos Aires by the Viennese Philharmonic of Mahler's First Symphony, conducted by Richard Strauss.
The dialogues between these two journalist colleagues are a source of considerable amusement. While the educated Ledesma spouts all he knows about Mahler's friendship with Strauss and his session with Freud, Verani, the embodiment of good common sense, the "vox pop", sabotages all attempts to glorify artists.
The two events in question suddenly become linked by a note that Verani finds, by chance, in the margin of a newspaper in the archives: on the night of the boxing match, a dead body was found in a hotel, on the same floor on which only the members of the Viennese orchestra were staying. Was it suicide or murder? Were bets taken on the result of the boxing match?
The twist at the end of the novel is as surprising and amusing as Kohan's narrative strategy of linking his figures and perspectives to produce a perfect mosaic.
Represented for Sudamericana, Argentina
La pérdida de Laura, Buenos Aires: Tantalia 1993, 127 p.
El informe, Buenos Aires: Sudamericana 1997, 249 p.
Los cautivos, el exilio de Echevarría, Buenos Aires: Sudamericana 2000, 170 p.
Dos veces junio, Buenos Aires: Sudamericana 2002, 188 p.
Brazil: Amauta 2005 ● France: Seuil 2012 ● Germany: Suhrkamp 2009
Segundos Afuera, Buenos Aries: Sudamericana 2005, 231 p.
Brazil: Companhia das Letras 2012 ● France: Le Seuil 2007 ● Germany: Suhrkamp 2007 ● Italy: Einaudi ● UK: Serpent’s Tail