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Reading Silvina Ocampo

Because of Italo Calvino and Luis Borges I picked up a copy of short stories by Silvina Ocampo, an Argentine fictionist who has even been overlooked by her own country.

Licking their lips, they attempted a shy conversation on the theme of picnics: people who had died after drinking wine or eating watermelon; a poisonous spider in a picnic basket one Sunday that had killed a girl whose in‑laws all hated her; canned goods that had gone bad, but looked delicious, had caused the death of two families in Trenque Lauquen; a storm that had drowned two couples who were celebrating their honeymoons with hard cider and rolls with sausages on the banks of a stream in Tapalqué.

She’s both haunting and cruel. Her cruelty is the reason that her 42-year body of work was denied national prize for literature by a panel of judges in 1979.

Indeed a quick survey of the first pages is like opening the Pandora box—Often she goes off on a tangent that no one else could have followed. She can open up a world that leaves you giddy with unfamiliarity. Silvina is fond of adding sinister weight to the trivial detail; and as you can also see, her confidence in our destinations in the afterlife is strangely convincing. No wonder she made Borges apprehensive.

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