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Juan Filloy: ¡Estafen! [Swindle!]

Sadly, only two of Filloy’s books are available in English and this is not one of them. While not as good as Op Oloop, it is still great fun and very readable though, like Op Oloop, the main character can be somewhat aggravating. As with his other books, seven is something of a mild obsession. The title, of course, has seven letters. It is the plural imperative of the verb estafar, meaning to swindle, which fortunately means that my English title also has seven letters. There are also seven chapters (sort of), with a foreword, one chapter for each of the first four days of events, an intermezzo, which he states is about his dreams but is more metaphysical ramblings, a key part of this and, indeed, his other books, with the last two-thirds of the book being devoted to the last five months of events.

The book opens with an elegant, well-dressed thirty-eight year old, man boarding a train and being arrested by the police. They claim that he is a swindler. He matches the description of a wanted swindler who is known to be fleeing from the city. He furiously denies the allegations but is nevertheless taken into custody and put into the local jail. After interrogation, he is taken on a three hour journey to the city and further interrogated. He continues to maintain his innocence and says that his reason for leaving the city was to visit his sick mother and he produces a telegram to prove it. He denies any knowledge of the swindle – a forged cheque for 86,000 pesos. But the police, for reasons that are not entirely clear, do not believe him. Nor do we, because we know that he is a cheque forger. Indeed, that is, as he tells us, how he makes his living, taking from people he calls not victims but the damned. He has an accomplice (a 27 year old man who has English parents) who has developed a cheque forging machine and he has been very successful at it. However, when the judge asks him how he earns a living, he claims to have 100,000 pesos in his savings account, giving him an income of 1500 pesos a month, barely enough, according to the judge, to keep him in ties. He then adds that he works in “field operations”. The judge assumes he means manual labour but he says that he buys and sells fields for a living!

By this time, our hero is being detained in the prison attached to the court. We never learn has name but he is known either as The Swindler or by his cell number, Block 14 Cell 3. Indeed, he refer to himself in this way. But, as this is Filloy, we can expect a certain surrealistic silliness. While there does seem to be a very slight Kafkaesque element, in that he remains detained without any strong reason for detaining him (though, of course, we know the reason), at least some of his prolonged detention is down to his own fault, such as refusing to sign documents, answer questions or use a lawyer. However, Filloy throws in his own somewhat surrealistic reasons for the continued detention. Firstly, our hero, keen on keeping up his forgery, forges the resignation letter of the prison administrator and then he himself seems to take over running the jail, allocating incoming prisoners to their cell, helping them out and so on. He also gets very comfortable in Block 14 Cell 3. He has a new bed (a Simmons one) moved in. He has the cell repainted (straw yellow for the ceiling and green for the walls). He gets in a wide selection of books on a variety of topics. He gets special food (a dozen oranges a day, initially). In short, he is so comfortable that he does not want to leave.

It is all wonderfully silly and wonderfully surrealistic, with Filloy throwing in a whole range of metaphysical musings, ranging from religion (there is a discussion with the chaplain) to abstruse historical issues. The Swindler can, at any time and without any apparent reason, go off on his musings. We also meet some of the other prisoners, such as the group of three robbers, where the two younger men are found guilty, while the older one, who had clearly organised the crime, is let off or the bald Jew who, as they enter the courtroom, looking at the Swindler, quotes Hamlet in English, saying One may smiles (sic) and smiles (sic) and be a villain!. He throws in word games (we get a two page list of Spanish palindromes and a play on the words esfincter (=sphincter) and espíritu (=spirit)). And, of course, there are the mildly surrealistic events such as the courts being closed for the entire month of January, leaving the prisoners in their cells or the judge not coming to the court because he is too tired. It is all great fun and certainly worthy of being translated into English.

Publishing history

First published by Ferrari Hermanos in 1931
No English translation