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Héctor Abad Faciolince: Basura [Rubbish]

Our unnamed narrator has moved to a new flat in Medellín. He sees that one of the other residents is Bernardo Davanzati, a name he remembers. Davanzati published a novel called Diary of an Impostor some time ago, which was not particularly well received, though it can still be found in the local public libraries. Some time after, he published another novel called Farewell to Youth. This one fared even worse and seems to have disappeared without trace. He does not seem to have published anything since, not even short articles or reviews in the press. Our narrator becomes fascinated with him. Indeed he tracks down Diary of an Impostor, reads it and finds that it is not all bad, worthy, perhaps of being republished.

It appears that Davanzati lives alone and is solitary. He does not attend house meetings, though he does pay his service charge on time, always paying in cash. He also seems to be comfortably off. One day our narrator notices Davanzati entering the building carrying a ream of paper. Is he still writing?

While writing his own articles, our narrator inadvertently throws away a magazine he needs, as it contains a reference for the article he is writing. The rubbish in the building is disposed of in a chute, with the rubbish being deposited in bins at the bottom. He goes to the bins to look for his magazine and soon finds it. He also sees a lot of sheets filled with handwriting. A glance at them indicates that someone – almost certainly Davanzati – has been writing. He takes the sheets back to his flat. He will continue to go to the bins every day and extract the sheets written by Davanzati.

Davanzati starts off by stating that he is writing something that no-one will ever read but feels he just has to write despite this. In some of the early pages, he suggests that he might have prostate cancer and also that he is forgetting things. But is this a novel or is it autobiography? The subsequent writings indicate that, contrary to what he might first have though, Davanzati is not going senile.

He talks, for example, about his conquest of women. He says he has no difficulty finding women prepared to sleep with him, but with one proviso. These women are scattered all over the world. He really does seem to have lovers in every port, every port, that is, except for Medellín, about which he is very disparaging. However, at a later date, he mentions that he had been married, with children. However, he had started an affair with a woman about the same age as his eldest son. This did not work out and he thought of leaving the country and fixed on Chile as a suitable destination, not least because of a fascination with Patagonia. Again, is this fiction or true?

Our narrator does not consider Davanzati a good writer, based on what he has read. He sometimes seems drunk and writes nonsense. He also occasionally writes silly, childish things. He even writes science fiction. However, he wonders whether these sheets are just scribblings, with a final and much improved copy in Davanzati’s flat. He does note on one sheet that Davanzati has written in capital letters: NO-ONE WOULD EVEN GIVE ME A HUNDRED PESOS TO READ THIS CRAP.

He is not just writing this novel/autobiography[hy. He translates poetry, including three versions of a translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 138, about old age. He also writes letters, including one to someone called Rebeca, who seems to be his ex-wife, whom he has not seen for some years and nor has he seen their daughter.

He also writes individual stories. For example, there is one about a rich architect and his family. They have a party, which is described in detail, with portraits of the key characters. It seems that the son of the architect is going to finance a new magazine and we follow a meeting of the interested parties, with scathing comments thrown in.

In this story and in others, both Davanzati and the narrator interject, making comments, criticism and, in the case of Davanzati, going off on tangents, so that we never get a straight story. This story, like others, is eventually abandoned. Another interesting story is a bloody crime story set in his own building, featuring one of the residents called Wilson, who seems to be based on or narrator.

Not content with examining Davanzati’s writings, he examines the rubbish of both Davanzati and the other residents. Theirs is boring and predictable. Davanzati, however, has started discarding books, including one on suicide. One of the key characters on the architect story is Serafin Quevedo, partner of the architect’s daughter, who, like Davanazti himself, is critical of Gabriel García Márquez, as Davanzati’s first book came ot about the same time as Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years Of Solitude) and, of course, overshadowed Davanzati’s novel.

Eventually, our narrator goes further and manages to track down people who know or knew Davanzati, if, indeed, Davanazati is his name, as an investigation reveals that there is no official record of anyone with that name. When Davanzati is absent for a while, he even breaks into his flat.

Our narrator comes to a simple conclusion: Davanzati estaba loco, no me cabía duda. Davanzati was mad, I had no doubt about it]. While this may be true, we could argue that the narrator is mad as well, obsessed, as he is, with this man and his work.

Abad Faciolince raises a host of interesting questions. What is truth? What is the respective role of reader and writer? How far is it legitimate to interfere in the life of another? When does investigation become obsession? Above all, are things as they seem?

The book had considerable success in Latin America and it is not difficult to see why. It is very clever and very well executed. We never know the name of the narrator and very little about him, except for the fact that he is a journalist. Is he our old friend the unreliable narrator? And, if so, do we have an unreliable narrator reporting on the narration of another unreliable narrator? The only real mystery to me is why this book has only been translated into Italian and Danish and no other language.

Publishing history

First published 2000 by Lengua de Trapo
No English translation
First published in Italian in 2008 as Scarti by Bollati Boringhieri
Translated by Eleonora Mogavero
Also published in Danish