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Andrés Neuman's autobiographical novel Una vez Argentina (Once Argentina) is published by Anagrama. His latest, El viajero del siglo (Traveller of the Century) is forthcoming from Pushkin Press.

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There's losing it all and selling it all

A stream of ladies and gentlemen arrived with an air of mistrust about them, glanced over our things with more or less interest and left. Some bought from us, some didn't. The study of my house on Avenida Independencia was brimming with furniture, ornaments, toys, books, pictures, items of clothing and even kitchen utensils. It was like an untidy summary of a home, an urgent inventory after a storm. The State was selling up. So were we.

My father had asked me to get rid of everything that wasn't indispensable. I had told him that all or almost all of the things I kept in my room were indispensable, to which he had merely replied that, in that case, I should choose three or four and he would take the rest.

I am convinced that this kind of parting with things is an excellent remedy for the hoarding syndrome, which is one of the most precise manifestations of fear. At that moment, however, it was hard for my brother Diego and I to stand by while a host of strangers traipsed through the corridor, the front hall, the study, deciding what part of our memories they were going to take home. I remember the woman who bought my Casio keyboard and some things Grandma Dorita had brought me from the toyshop where she used to work. She had a kindly, white face. That consoled me somewhat. But I can't recall the face of the man who took my collection of horror novels, a series published in Spain that I'd read with scientific zeal: in my drawer, filed in order, I kept notes and statistics on my favourite authors (statistics are a veiled symptom of panic). As I watched that civilized looting of our belongings, I suddenly remembered my Lithuanian great-grandmother, who used to keep her favourite objects in little bags that went in boxes inside other bags.

Those losses were more or less recoverable for one who was only at the beginning of his adolescence. But I wonder how much pain it must have brought my parents to sacrifice the objects of a lifetime. I don't know: a lot and very little. When we part with the things we used to venerate, there is usually a powerful reason that wisely releases us from having to worry about them. I imagine that, as they watched all of their furnishings being carted off, my parents thought only about the modest benefits they were obtaining and the uncertainty of the journey.

How much pain? A lot, very little. I do have two indications, however: my parents' discreet tears as their German piano was carried down the stairs by three brawny men; and their silent embrace while a guy in blue overalls measured the squares of books that we'd laid out in the front hall. They had come to buy them by the metre. Some of the books were the same ones that had first sparked my interest in reading. Nevertheless, their destination was to be the best possible: the shelves of some second-hand bookshop.

When the guy in the blue overalls finished measuring our books, my mother went into the kitchen for a smoke and my father stayed back talking with him to close the deal. I think that was the first time I realized that parents could actually feel far more unprotected than their kids. Fifteen years earlier, mine had had to burn some of their books; now they only had to sell them. It was, without doubt, progress.

Translated by Alison Entrekin.

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