Home » Argentina » César Aira » El llanto [Crying]

César Aira: El llanto [Crying]

Our narrator is in a bad way. His wife, Claudia, has left him for a Japanese terrorist and his career as a writer seems to be going nowhere. At the start of the book, he is stuck in his flat, unable to sleep properly. The flat seems to be permanently grey, so he never knows whether it is day or night. He is having nightmares. He woke up one morning, having hardly slept. He was still very tired and every bone in his body ached. He started crying uncontrollably. Then he had a hallucination.

This was not your normal hallucination. What he saw was a television, a black and white televsion. It was switched on but with a poor picture. What was showing was an episode of Rin-Tin-Tin, a programme he used to enjoy as a boy. However, in this episode, Rin-Tin-Tin rushes to get help from the army camp for his soldier, who is in trouble. Unlike what normally happened, the soldiers ignore him. He barks, he pulls their trouser legs, he tries to show them what is happening. They just don’t care.

It all started in Poland. Poland and Argentina had a literary exchange agreement and our narrator was the first (and undoubtedly the last) Argentinian involved. He arrived on a weekend, with no Polish money, no knowledge of the language and no-one to meet him. He spent 48 hours, without food, at the airport. When he was rescued he was given a minimal amount of money. He spent the year struggling to survive, often cold and hungry. When he got home his wife told him she wanted to start to live. What did that mean? He soon found out.

Laura Premondini is a beautiful woman, as is Claudia. Laura is also a very famous TV star. She wants to branch out and our narrator has been commissioned to write a treatment for her to appear in. They dine in a very expensive and prestigious restaurant. Lots of the rich and famous are there but, in particular, as far as our narrator is concerned, there are three other interesting persons present. The first is the prime minister. The second and third, dining together, are Claudia and Isso Hokkama. They cannot see him and indeed he cannot see them directly, though he can see them in a mirror. They have not seen him, though everyone stared when he entered with Laura Premondini. They are both too involved with one another.

The menu is strange. He and Laura appear to have live fish to eat. Suddenly, in a scene which could probably only happen in an Aira book, several things happen all at once. Firstly a bomb explodes and the lights go out. The sound causes one of the live fish to leap and fall down Laura’s cleavage. It starts biting her breasts and she is clearly in distress. Isso jumps, pulls out a gun and assassinates the prime minister. He and Claudia then dash away. It would be very funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

No-one really got a look at Claudia and Isso so they were not identified. Our narrator keeps quiet as he does not wish to be associated with the dining partner of the assassin. Laura, however, is infected by the bite of the fish and thoroughly traumatised, so that she has to spend the next few months hospitalised.

Back home he finds Claudia who has now started to live. She soon leaves, taking a flat nearby but also, to his chagrin taking the dog, called, naturally, Rin-Tin-Tin. However, he gets to look after the dog whenever she goes out, which is frequently. As this is an Aira novel, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the dog, a crow and a cricket start talking to him.

We are where the novel started, the narrator on his own and miserable so, again, it is perhaps not surprising that, around three- quarters of the way through the book, he now tells us that the story is about to start, the rest being merely prologue. Given what has happened this is somewhat peculiar but, indeed, he is telling the truth, as we now have two major plot twists, which change everything.

Every story is, at heart a beautiful love story, he tells us near the end. I do not think that Ì agree with that. However, what I can say is that every Aira story is, to quote Winston Churchill, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. This one certainly fits that description. Sadly it has not been translated into English.

Publishing history

First published by Beatriz Viterbo in 1992
No English translation
First published in French as Les larmes by Actes Sud in 2007
Translated by Michel Lafon