Mempo Giardinelli - terse, unapologetic sentences construct a nightmarish landscape of political and sexual intrigue and horror, where questions about right and wrong have disappeared

Sultry Moon Cover

Mempo Giardinelli, Sultry Moon, Trans. by Patricia J. Duncan, Latin American Literary Review Press, 1998.

Topping Argentina's bestseller list for twenty-seven weeks and winner of Mexico's National Book Award, Sultry Moon is reminiscent of both Crime and Punishment and Lolita. This fast-paced thriller begins with the arrival of a protagonist who has just returned from studies in France with the prospect of a brilliant career ahead of him. He is welcomed back with open arms, but within a few hours at a dinner party, he becomes a ruthless, violent agressor living out the paranoid psychology of a criminal.

This marvelous novel, its Argentine author's fourth, won the 1983 Mexican National Book Award. It's a tense, resonant story of a 30ish intellectual, Ramiro Bernadez, whose hopeful return home is destroyed by his impulsive commission of rape, then murder, and his inability--implicitly compared to that of Argentina's ruling elite--to take responsibility for, or even acknowledge, his actions. A beautifully controlled small masterpiece, filled with echoes of both Camus's L'Etranger and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. - Kirkus Reviews

A bestseller in Argentina where it was published in 1983, this feverish novella made Giardinelli the first foreign author to win Mexico's National Book Award. The story, about a man who commits a heinous crime and spirals into a series of rationalizations, owes much to Dostoyevski and Camus. At 32, Ramiro Bernardez returns to his small Argentine hometown after eight years of studies in Paris, expecting to embark upon a brilliant career as a law professor. Instead, within the span of a few hours when the moon is full, he becomes a rapist, murderer and fugitive. Giardinelli explores how Ramiro's transgressions exacerbate his difficulty distinguishing reality from mere perception. Arrogant and even proud of his actions, Ramiro manages, for a while, to evade being charged with the crime even as he's increasingly tortured by fear and a nagging sense of guilt. Into this classically existentialist tale of the crime (and punishment) of a man who is a psychological stranger to himself, Giardinelli works a gracefully inconspicuous allegory of the political climate in Argentina during the 1970s. Ramiro is no different from the government of the time, which abused its power, made excuses for its actions and pretended other crimes never happened. It's a shame that American readers have had to wait so long to see such an important Latin American novel, and thanks are due the publisher for bringing it to us at long last. - Publishers Weekly

With its exceptionally taut plot development, this wonderfully compelling pychological tale quickly builds momentum and holds it to the end. Set in provincial Argentina during the days of the military dictatorship of the late 1970s and early 1980s, this novella (a form greatly appreciated in Latin America) finds Ramiro Bernardez back home from his studies in Paris after an absence of eight years. He is welcomed and celebrated by the town, and he is immediately aroused by the now-lovely daughter of a friend of his father's. But his arousal leads to murder, and in an incredibly short span of time--" only three nights of heat, of torrid, scorching air" --Ramiro goes from commanding community respect and admiration to having to flee the country like a common criminal. Ramiro's mental state, from sexual curiosity to almost fatal paranoia, is charted with scintillating perfection. With not a superfluous word but never suggesting inadequate dramatization, Giardinelli's novella is a supreme example of the power of the form. -  Brad Hooper

It had been my intention to talk about this great novella for a while, and since there has been a flurry of interesting observations about more famous Latin american writers, I thought I should discuss this novel here.
Mempo Giardinelli is an Argentinian novelist. His opinions are well respected. But, my interest is in his sultry moon.
sultry moon is written at a break-neck speed. It is an opiate dream. It disconcerts, it hurts, it amazes. Seemingly written like a thriller, it is not a thriller. The events unfold at such a speed, with such fantastic vigour that one has to finish the novella in one reading. That the language is terse, tense, poetic and so economical is a lesson to the accumulating wastes of other fiction everywhere.
Normally, one sympathizes with the protoganist or hates him or her. But not here. The feeling after reading the book is a kind of unsettling confusion, a psychotic daze. The main actor, Ramiro Bernandez commits a crime. Then he is on the run.
The title, quite brazenly, suggests that the moon was perhaps responsible for his act. Yet, in a more mesmerizing manner, Giardinelli does not reveal his sympathies. If there are allegories or metaphors here, they are obvious. The events unfold against the backdrop of the military junta ruling Argentina in the eighties.
However, the writer does not suggest the innocence of Ramirez or the brutality of the Police as obvious elements in such times. The most obvious lesson is that anyone can commit an atrocity, not just monsters. Battles of conscience, morality, love, lust, moon's heat or pure aggression, you have it here.
Thriller as an allegory, detective genre as a technique of subduing words, yes, this book succeeds, it wins. This novel is not what it seems it is. It glitters, it shines, it lights up desolations at night. For those unfamiliar with Giardinelli, what better baptism, what better fires?
I must end by quoting this passage, one of the many gems in this book.
Hell, on top of it all to become melancholy at this stage of the game, forever, into an outlaw, Who would have thought it? But why should he think any more. The heat was to blame, that heat that enhanced the possibilities of death. It imparts variety to its forms. The heat, it seems, searches inside of you without your realizing it. But it causes death, that old thing that is always renewed like the great rivers.
He sat on the bed and took a gulp of the coke they had......................  -   


Mempo Giardinelli, Tenth Circle, Andrea G. Labinger,  Latin American Literary Review Press, 2000.

A passionate affair suddenly turns sinister, and the middle-aged couple realize they share a lust for killing as well as each other. Witty and unexpectedly amusing, this thrilling novel is a captivating look at desire in its most basic form. At turns poetic, erotic, horrific, and even tongue-in-cheek, the book tells of a spiraling descent that becomes a brutal reality of no escape.

Hollywood violence is imported to Latin America in this bloody but oddly captivating novella chronicling the mother of all midlife crises. The first-person narrator, twice-divorced Argentinian Alfredo Romero, is approaching 50. For four years, Alfredo has been involved in a torrid love affair with Griselda Antonutti, the wife of his best friend and business partner, Antonio. One night, without provocation, and seemingly for kicks, Alfredo slams a shovel into the back of Antonio's head. The newly widowed Griselda and Alfredo find the killing exciting, and Griselda promptly attacks a nosy neighbor with a poker while Alfredo shoots an unlucky delivery boy. Soon Alfredo is murdering everyone in sight, while confiding to the reader, "Believe me, it's fascinating to go around killing people." It's plain things are going to turn out badly, and although Alfredo and Griselda attempt to escape to Paraguay, the plot spirals down to who-kills-whom-first. Novelist and journalist Giardinelli has produced a kind of Natural Born Killers crossed with Peyton Place, with the older protagonists providing a deliciously disturbing twist to the sex and violence. Why should teenagers have all the fun? Labinger's translation is adequate, although her occasional reliance on clich s ("He could sell ice to an Eskimo," "Off we went, burning rubber") can be distracting. Although Giardinelli is not well known in this country, his previous novel, Sultry Moon, was a bestseller in Argentina, Russia, Germany and Brazil, and won Mexico's National Book Award when it was published there in 1983. If presented to readers as the clever, tongue-in-cheek thriller it is, his latest has the potential to attract wider audiences in the U.S. - Publishers Weekly

This mordant novella, similar in content and theme to its Argentine author’s prizewinning Sultry Moon (1998), details a crime spree, including multiple murders, undertaken by “respectable” businessman Alfredo Romero and his adulterous lover Griselda—a nastier south-of-the-border Bonnie and Clyde. It’s narrated by Alfredo after he’s been apprehended (and fantasizes both reunion with and vengeance upon the fugitive Griselda)—who expresses both an amoralist’s scorn for moralizing hypocrites (whom he imagines consigned to a “tenth circle” of Dante’s Hell) and the reasonable conviction that ego gratification and wholesale slaughter are, after all, perfectly in keeping with their country’s blood-soaked recent history. More than a bit obvious, but redeemed, and then some, by the narrative’s intensity, velocity, and matter-of-fact black humor. A very accomplished work. - Kirkus Reviews

Mempo Giardinelli, An Impossible Balance, Trans. by Gustavo Pellón,  Juan de la Cuesta, 2010.

An Impossible Balance (published as Imposible equilibrio in 1995), the first novel written by Mempo Giardinelli after his return to Argentina from years of exile in Mexico, seduces us with a plot whose improbable premise is the importation of hippopotamuses to his native Chaco region. As in the previous cases of his adaptations of pulp fiction genres, the vertiginous though strangely plausible plot overflows the usual limits of the genre and evolves into an allegorical commentary about the political and moral condition of his country. An Impossible Balance brings readers back to the setting of Giardinelli s earlier novel Luna caliente (1983)[Sultry Moon]. Both Sultry Moon and An Impossible Balance begin in a realist mode, meeting readers stylistic expectations of the hard-boiled novel and the road movie respectively, but as the action develops these novels abandon the conventions of realism. Situated in the Argentine northeast, An Impossible Balance reclaims and recuperates textually the land lost and yearned for in exile. It is a homage to the Chaco, its people (with great emphasis on its ethnic diversity), and its flora and fauna (described with the meticulousness of a botanist and a zoologist). The conclusion of An Impossible Balance fashions an epilogue for Sultry Moon but leaves open the fate of some of its protagonists. In order to learn the ending of An Impossible Balance, readers will have to go to Giardinelli s novel Final de novela en Patagonia [End of Novel in Patagonia] (2000).  

excerpt from the novel The Dance of the Hippos.


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