Buenos Aires Letter

Flaminia Ocampo

At the beginning of June, Edgardo Cozarinsky, an Argentinean writer, came to dinner at home in Brooklyn Heights. In my imaginary dinner we, the guests, would be asking questions about his outpouring of creativity. In the world of art, he has no equivalent. Writer, filmmaker, he has written 16 books of fiction and non fiction (among others translated in English Urban Voodoo, The Bride from Odessa, The Moldavian Pimp), and has filmed 21 feature-length, short films, and "essays” (a form of personal documentary). He also wrote a mini-opera and a play that he directed, but awed as we guests were and humble as he is (a style of humility that reminded me of Borges and Silvina Ocampo with whom he was acquainted) the conversation never went to his work, to his impressive ability to express in so many artistic forms what is mysterious in human life. In the role of the artist as a sort of detective he searches the facts, the chances, the unexpected connections that shape lives, the mixture of geographical roots but also historical ones that decide who we are. Looking for answers to the mysteries of the past is not enough; the journey searching for them is also what matters.

His grandparents were Ukrainian Jews who arrived in Argentina from Kiev and Odessa in the late nineteenth century, and his writing has the vastness of a man who has transformed his forebears’ uprooting into a feeling of belonging to the world, what Susan Sontag called his cosmopolitanism, in her preface to Urban Voodoo.

What is striking is how sometimes in really brief form (like his short stories in The Bride from Odessa), he can recreate huge historical moments in two or three sentences. Usually, like in The Moldavian Pimp, from simple objects, theatre programs in this case, he connects movements of people through a century and across continents from Europe to South America. The story of forgotten theatre programs in a shoebox is the one that reveals these people’s lives. He is a writer who doesn’t want the past to go unnoticed and who rescues it from oblivion.

In his last film, Letter to a Father, a mixing of autobiography and documentary, the search this time is around his own past through the lives of his grandparents who arrived to a Jewish settlement in Entre Ríos at the end of the nineteenth century where his father was born. It is also, most of all, a way to reach for an answer to the question most of us never asked our fathers when they still could have answered it: “Who are you behind the few things I know about you?”

FLAMINIA OCAMPO’s stories have appeared in Spanish as La locura de los otros (2003) and in English as Other People’s Phobias (2013). Her other books include the novel Siete Vidas (2004) and a biographical study of Victoria Ocampo Victoria y sus amigos (Buenos Aires; Ediciones Aquilina, 2009) from which this essay is taken.

Editor's Note.  Flaminia Ocampo is, with Mario Murgia, guest editing the next issue of The Battersea Review, which will be a Spanish Number.