Sunday, January 17, 2010

Las Viudas de los jueves- Argentine novel by Claudia Piñeiro

The novel Las Viudas de los jueves ( the Thursday widows ) takes the readers into the country clubs of Argentina and gives an insight into the lives of the rich Argentines who live in these exclusive places. Country clubs in Argentina ( called as Countries ) are gated residential communities with 100 to 1000 houses. There are around 200 Countries around Buenos Aires city. The main newspapers have weekly supplements on the countries with pictures of idyllic lives. These countries have large houses with spacious gardens, sports facilities such as polofields, golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools. Most importantly the countries provide security with its own private security guards and systems. They have high walls around so that the poor people outside cannot see the affluence inside. Outsiders cannot enter the countries unless they are invited by a resident. The families and children can walk around and do cycling and skating and there is no need to lock the houses. Many of the Countries have golf courses which add to the greenery and scenery. While some people use their country houses for weekends, there are many who live there permanently and commute to work in the city. During weekends, everyone is out in the gardens, golf courses, tennis courts and pools. Even the kitchen goes outdoor for Asado ( barbecue ). Friends and families get together for barbecue lunch and wine.

I have played golf in dozens of these country clubs and been to the barbecue parties of friends living there. I have been impressed with the style of living, elegance of the houses and aesthetic taste with which the houses are furnished. The country club residences look like entries of architects and interior designers for a competition.

The principal characters in the novel are four couples in the country club called as Los Altos de Cascada. The four wives call themselves as Thursday Widows because their husbands get together on Thursday nights to play cards and have fun among themselves. The wives are excluded from this and they go out for movies or find other ways to occupy themselves. On one fatal Thursday, three of the husbands commit suicide by eloctrocutting in the swimming pool. The fourth guy does not agree to this collective suicide and escapes. The reason for the suicide is the fall in their income and loss of jobs and business which make it impossible for them to sustain the lifestyle they had maintained in the country club.

The novel portrays vividly the aspirations, ostentations, anxieties and insecurities within the high society of the countries. A house in a country is a statement by the social climbers. It is to get away from the city crowd and become part of an exclusive group. But after having moved into the country, they are under intense and constant pressure to keep up with the neighbours and keep up appearances. Clothes, cars, gardens and lives are compared all the time. The scrutiny is more intense than among those living in apartments. In the countries everything is open. There are no fences between houses and there is no place to hide. It is like living in glasshouses. Two teenagers in the novel spend the nights spying on the houses of other residents through binoculars watching from trees and bushes. They happen to see the suicide event and film it. Another kid makes sketches of what he sees through the windows. His sketch and diary description of the sexual activities of his neighbour becomes an issue in the school, who advise the parents to take the kid to a psychologist.

In the Argentine society, show is more important than content. This can be seen from the elaborate artistic façade of the buildings and the elegant dressing by old people who come to the neighbourhood cafes. In Brazil dress does not matter. Choli ke peeche kya hai .. is all that the Brasilians are interested.

The son of one of the principal characters in the novel does not know what to write when the teacher asks the children to write about what their fathers do. The father puts a Dr as prefix and pretend to be an advocate although he never went to a law college.

While the men go to work in the city and kids go to bilingual schools during the day, the housewives have plenty of time. Some of them find themselves trapped in the countries. They try to learn painting, tennis, card games and golf. Those who cannot find things to occupy themselves end up drinking. Carmen, one of the characters in the novel, asks her maid to bring a glass of Rutini ( upscale argentine brand) wine as soon as she gets up. She drinks it in the bathroom even before brushing her teeth. The kids take to drugs. They do it freely making use of the protected environment of the gated community which is off limit for police and law enforcement.

In the countries everyone talks only in US dollars even while buying and selling among themselves. A painting made by of one of the residents is sold to a neighbour in dollars.The prices of properties are, of course, quoted in dollars in Argentina in general.

The novel gives an account of what goes on in the golf courses. Golf is not only for fun and relaxation. The fairways of the course are the places where contacts are established and cultivated and business deals are made. Argentina is full of deal makers and contacts are vital for business and success.

When any Korean calls the golf club of Los Altos, the starter is under instructions from the committee to tell them that the course is full or quote very high green fees to deter them from coming. This is not just fiction. It is a fact in most golf clubs in Argentina and Latin America. Korean players are not welcome since they are perceived as rude, quarrelsome and discourteous to other players. The Koreans ahve found a solution to this problem. They have established their own golf courses in many countries of Latin America including in Argentina.

This is the first novel of Claudia Piñeiro I have read. She has impressed me as a talented writer with a sensitive understanding and perceptive analysis of the Argentine society. She has a keen eye for details and her commentaries are apt and sharp.

The Thursday widows was chosen for the award of the best novel of the year in 2005 by Clarin, the largest circulated newspaper of Argentina. A movie with the same title based on the book was released in 2009.

This is the second novel I have read fully in Spanish language and managed to finish the 318 pages in one week. Hmm.. it seems I might read more books in Spanish.

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