BORN IN ARGENTINA in 1928, Angélica Gorodischer has been producing well-received science fiction, fantasy, and crime fiction for more than four decades, for the most part completely under the radar of Anglophone readers. In 2003, Small Beer Press published Gorodischer’s 1983 novel-in-stories Kalpa Imperial, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, but it’s taken another decade for English readers to get another glimpse of Gordischer’s fiction, this time her 1979 novel Trafalgar, translated by Amalia Gladhart.
The Trafalgar of the title is Trafalgar Medrano — merchant, collector, womanizer, and bon vivant, or so says the entry in Who’s Who in Rosario with which Trafalgar opens. Rosario is Gorodischer’s home town, and as if to further blur the line between fact and fiction, the Who’s Who entry numbers Gorodischer among Trafalgar’s friends. She also appears — unnamed but unmistakable — as one of several narrators in Trafalgar, each of whom describes an encounter with the eponymous hero. In each of these chapters, Trafalgar and the narrator sit, either at the latter’s home or at one of the tables in the Burgundy — “the well known establishment that has seen pass through its premises in the 1100 block of Córdoba so many of the city’s leading personalities” — but always over an endless stream of black coffee, made either inexpertly by his friends or perfectly by the Burgundy’s implacable waiter Marcos, as Trafalgar tells the story of some strange occurrence on one of his business trips.
So far, so mundane, and indeed the opening paragraphs of the first story in Trafalgar, “By the Light of the Chaste Electronic Moon,” seem to go out of their way to establish not only a familiar club story format but to fill in the details of that club in a way that makes them seem — certainly to readers in 2013, but presumably also to those in 1979 — almost old-fashioned:
The Burgundy is one of those bars of which there aren’t many left, if there are any at all. None of that Formica or any fluorescent lights or Coca Cola. Gray carpet — a little worn — real wood tables and real wood chairs, a few mirrors against the wood paneling, small windows, a single door and a façade that says nothing. Thanks to all this, inside there’s a lot of silence and anyone can sit down to read the paper or talk with someone else or even do nothing, seated at a table with a cloth, white crockery dishes, and real glass, like civilized people use, and a serious sugar bowl, and without anyone, let alone Marcos, coming to bother them.
This old-timey feeling serves all the better to wrong-foot readers when Trafalgar’s latest interlocutor remarks, upon hearing the beginning of his story, that “I have never known if it is true or not that Trafalgar travels to stars but I have no reason not to believe him. Stranger things happen. What I do know is that he is fabulously rich. And that it doesn’t seem to matter a bit to him.” Whether or not we’re meant to believe Trafalgar’s stories — and, with the exception of Angélica’s eighty-four-year-old aunt Josefina, who assumes that Trafalgar is telling her a story about a journey to India, the novel’s various narrators for the most part affect a bemused credulousness, clearly more interested in hearing hi...read more