Three Musketeers
Marcelo Birmajer
Sharon Wood, Translator
(The Toby Press)

    Almost all good jokes about paranoid people converge on a single, serious doubt. Is paranoia a state of alienation which imagines dangers where there are none, or a state of lucidity which perceives real dangers invisible to everyone else?

    All paranoid people who are not psychotic will claim the second explanation; the wives of the paranoids will go for the first.

Between 1976 and 1983, 30,000 people went missing in Argentina through government-sponsored terrorism. It would be rare to find a merry novel about los desaparecidos. But the Three Musketeers is a merry ... if not raunchy ... take on those years.

It recalls those times through the lens of Javier Mossen, a reluctant journalist. His editor assigns him to cover the return of the one remaining "Musketeer" --- Elías Traúm --- back, presumably, to seek out an old flame, Cristina Sobremonte. Traúm's old revolutionary fire is now mitigated by cynicism: "the Left is a virus which gnaws away at intelligence;"

    Trotsky ... How did he get to be such a radical schmuck? He was drooling. A mental retard, with all due respect.

The fun here is not just digging up the past of Traúm and the musketeers, Benji and Guidi. Nor is it Traúm's continuing lust and scorn for Cristina ("She was our donkey. She loved all of us"), his lust and scorn for all women:

    I've always believed, ever since the age of reason, that women who are excessively beautiful have a certain tendency to go mad.

Birmajer's prose is squalid, reprehensible, juvenile ... but, also, wistful, sometimes poignant, at times great. This is the story of seven-year-old Benji getting lost on the beach at Mar de Plata. It's told by Traúm's friend, Dayan. Everybody was in a panic, except the boy's grandfather, Don Julio: "He was a survivor of the Shoah, he had his number tattooed on his arm. At that time it was quite common to see Jews with their arm tattoed, along the beach here around the Bristol hotel. What was going on in his head? Why wasn't he getting upset like the grandmother, why wasn't he desperate like the parents, why wasn't he crying like Berta, why wasn't he scared like me?"

    I think he took it with the terrible calm of the man who is sure that God is silent. That He will go on beating him with no justification and no reward. That it makes no sense to suffer before going on suffering, or to go on suffering after you have suffered. That the same probability goes for the best and the worst, that death always has the last word and nobody can say anything back in reply.

Dayan finishes, "I'm not sure myself what I mean, but the grandfather didn't weep, and he wasn't upset."

Three Musketeers is chaotic, disjointed, and I cannot figure out exactly for the life of me why it works as well as it does. Birmajer makes his hero to be a bit of a fool. He's a coward who spends his life avoiding work, cheating on his wife, obsessed non-stop with women's buttocks.

It is all very reprehensible ... and very funny.

--- Akira Gyoko
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH