restricted access Books and Bombs in Buenos Aires: Borges, Gerchunoff, and Argentine-Jewish Writing (review)
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Reviewed by
Edna Aizenberg. Books and Bombs in Buenos Aires: Borges, Gerchunoff, and Argentine-Jewish Writing. Boston: Brandeis UP, 2003. x +224 pp.

Books and Bombs in Buenos Aires: Borges, Gerchunoff, and Argentine-Jewish Writing is the culmination of the Edna Aizenberg's long-lasting scholarly examination of the works of Argentinean writers Jorge Luis Borges and Alberto Gerchunoff. The book follows the legacy of both writers in search of what their literary works and their political interventions can contribute to some of the most urgent concerns [End Page 498] of literary critics today: canon formation, multiculturalism, the writing of disaster, and the interactions between different literary traditions. The references to the bombs that blew up the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the headquarters of the biggest Jewish community organization in 1994 set the tone by alerting us to how the literary, the political, and the ethical function in the text. Like many authors who have recently reflected on Jewishness (Baumann, Hirsh, Suleiman, and Spitzer, among others), Aizenberg reveals her intense personal involvement in the topics she studies. The grief that shines through—for lost friends, lost books, and for an imperiled sense of community—colors the readings of the texts.

The book is organized around two symbolic axes: Gerchunoff's gauchos and Borges's golems. According to Aizenberg, "Alberto Gerchunoff and Jorge Luis Borges are Latin America's most influential Hebraic authors, the creators of powerful mythopoetic figures who encapsulate the complexities and agonies of being unmistakably Jewish and Latin American amid the travails of the twentieth century" (2).

Part 1 is devoted to rereadings and rewritings of Alberto Gerchunoff's seminal work Los gauchos judíos (1910). Aizenberg focuses on what she calls a literary parricide: "a fierce struggle with the powerful progenitor [Gerchunoff] whose work stands as the initiating discourse against which all later utterances must be read" (17). A group of texts that speak to recent phenomena in Argentine history—state terrorism, exile, neoliberalism—are examined from the perspective of what it means to be Judeo-Argentine. The texts examined include Gerardo Mario Goloboff's Criador de palomas (1984), Ricardo Feierstein's Mestizo (1998), Sergio Chejfec's Lenta biografía (1990), Marcos Aguinis's La gesta del marrano (1991), and Gabriela Avigur-Rotem's Motsart Lo Haya Yehudi (1992). Avigur-Rotem, an Argentine-born Israeli who writes in Hebrew, incorporating the tones and cadences of a multiplicity of immigrant languages, replicates Gerchunoff's gesture of 1910. The insightful analysis of Avigur-Rotem's place in the literary canon as an immigrant woman writing in a hybrid language will hopefully open up more discussion on this author's work. Aizenberg closes the first part of the book with a reflection on her experience of translating Gerchunoff into English where she goes as far as claiming that "[t]ranslation is the best way of reading" (69).

In part 2, Borges's work is reread along that of authors in many literary traditions who have been inspired by him: Marcos Ricardo Barnatán, Tahar ben Jelloun, Alicia Freilich, Salman Rushdie, and Victor Vitanza, to name just a few. Aizenberg uses the golem as her "tutelary deity" (5), claiming that Borges Latin Americanized it, "imbuing the gelem—raw material derived from Judaism—with the language, [End Page 499] culture and predicaments of the South" (5). While in the first part of the book, Aizenberg claims that Argentine-Jewish writers constructed a multilingual counterdiscourse that resisted authoritarianism, in the second part she argues that, through Borges, this counterdiscourse becomes global. By claiming that Borges was a postcolonial precursor, and an initiator of literature after Auschwitz, she centers Latin American literature within the Western canon in a truly Borgesian gesture. Aizenberg reads Borges from a Jewish feminist perspective focusing on the Hebraic elements he uses and their destabilizing potential. Through a reading that highlights his critical stance on Nazism, Borges emerges not as the apolitical author he has been purported to be, but rather as a clairvoyant intellectual who stared at the horrors of the twentieth century in the face and denounced them.

Books and Bombs in Buenos Aires is an invitation to rethink literary traditions...


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