Passionate Nomads is a most extraordinary addition to the literature of the New World. To bring Merlin the Magician and a daughter of Morgan Le Fay over to 20th-century Argentina might be merely whimsical, but then to revive the Indians of the pampas along with a 19th-century general who both wrote about them and helped massacre them takes fictional daring of a high order. As the reality of South America proved too much for realistic fiction to handle, Borges and García Márquez invented magic realism; and now, in a yet more radical invention, such writers as Liliana Bodoc and María Rosa Lojo evoke a profound fantasy of the real – not a rewriting of history, but an imaginative recall and understanding of what has been forgotten, cannot be remembered, and yet must be remembered.
Ursula K. Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea and Catwings series
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What kind of adventure would Merlin have if he was still among us? Would he live alone or in company of a rebel niece, noble heir to Fata Morgana who one fine day decides to emigrate to Argentine literature?…A fantastical medieval fiction that breaks into Latin American reality with humor and imagination.
Ana Clavel, author of Desire and Its Shadow and Shipwrecked Bodies
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Lojo’s fiction places her as a first-rate writer.
Ernesto Sábato, Argentine writer
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Passionate Nomads sings with the eloquence of ancient mythology, from Merlin’s wisdom to the lost traditions of the Ranquel Indian culture of the pampas. Brett Alan Sanders’ translation vividly captures the spiritual depth of the trio of main characters whose convergence in time and space marks the initiation of a journey to the heart of Argentina. This novel is further evidence of María Rosa Lojo’s command of the historical fiction genre and her ability to weave a captivating story.
Rebecca Ulland, Professor of Spanish, Northern Michigan University
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Original, complex, profound, poetic, brilliant…
Enrique Anderson, Argentine writer
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A historical novel smoothly blended with a fairy tale…
La Nación (Buenos Aires)
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The impossible becomes realistic…
La Prensa (Buenos Aires)
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A coherent and profound meditation on existence.
La Gaceta (Argentina)
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In this enchanting novel by María Rosa Lojo exist images made of air…
El Cronista Comercial (Buenos Aires)
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A beautiful metaphor of nostalgia, of a glorified past full of hope, sadly disappeared.
Merlin awaits me at the Anchorena lodging.
Eternity has recently begun.
I returned to the lodging in Anchorena around dawn. Beneath the unnecessary shade of a grape vine in the corridor, Merlin awaited me. He puffed slowly on his pipe filled with herbs, and at a certain height the spirals of aromatic smoke fashioned amusing images of medieval ladies and warriors.
“Why don’t you sit with me for a spell?” He pointed to a chair that seemed placed there for the purpose. “I don’t suppose that, at this hour of your vigil, you’re planning to sleep.”
Merlin’s attitude was the second great surprise of the night. I wondered if he was just in an uncommon mood for confidences, or if he was planning to yank them out of me.
“You’ve been out strolling around the pond, eh?”
“Since you say so, then I guess you already know,” I half smiled, a bit irritated by so much magical competence.
“Of course I know. But don’t think I owe that knowledge to my Bohemian crystal ball, or that I dedicate myself to spying on you with it in the darkness. I’ve lived a lot, Mansilla, that’s all.”
He cleared his throat, exhaling forcefully a final mouthful of smoke that soon drew the exotic silhouette of a dragon.
“It also seems clear that you’ve had disturbing visits throughout the trip. And that you’re profoundly disenchanted with the trip itself. When I was in Camelot a century and a half ago the same thing occurred to me. It would be the same if I were to return now to my Galician house. And all things considered, you came back with your brow neither all wrinkled nor even too silvery like the snows of yesteryear. Well, yes, Mansilla. The thing is, that’s what it’s like to return. One confuses space with time and believes he’s going to find something precious that’s been lost, something that’s situated in the past and should be recovered. But what there is isn’t there, it’s in the present, the only space that confers answers.”
“And what present do I have? A provisional card for re-entry into material life, and a diluted, equivocal survival in the memory of a country that’s no longer mine.”
“And an extravagant love for a certain individual who doesn’t belong to your same vital frequency.”
“She’s told you –?”
“Nothing. In spite of appearances, my niece is discreet. But I’m not blind.”
“And what? Is that some crime?”
“By no means. Love teaches many things, though almost always something silly – or for that very reason. And you will learn them.”
“Doesn’t it strike you as being a little late to learn?”
“Eternity is just beginning for you.”
“What sort of eternity? In what condition? Where and why the hell? Do you think I was interested in strolling interminably with top hat and cane through a stage-prop garden with paper tendrils and stuccoed plasterwork?”
“Be quiet and don’t complain. You probably deserved the joke.”
“Sometimes they play practical jokes. The impulse toward play isn’t just human. Quite the contrary. It’s a divine impulse transferred in occasional little sparks to humans.”
“But damn it, who plays such pranks? Who has allowed me – and why! – to be here, talking with you, solid and restored thanks to the fern seeds I drink with my breakfast coffee?”
“You want to know everything and, what’s more, all at once. You’ll become unsettled with so many things you can’t understand. You’ve already become unsettled enough waking up at the end of the twentieth century.”
“What do you mean?”
“That nothing convinces you, that you criticize everything, that you – so intrigued by novelties – are fascinated but at the same time disconcerted by modern technology. That you imagine the prosaic and even the coarse side of dreams of material progress made real, while some others, like those related to the greatness of the homeland and its honorable role among the world’s nations, strike you as every day more utopian, in the worst sense of that beauteous word.”
“You’ve read my thoughts, if indeed I have any.”
“You have and will have many more, as you go on growing.”
“Growing in death, or in the other life. That’s what your journey has to do for you. And I’ll give you some advice, though experience tells me that other people’s advice is worth little: don’t remain a prisoner of any of your projected personas.”
“Those that seductive figure who still so dazzles you was constructing, although you pretended and still pretend not to take it seriously. Weren’t you happy with just the mere fact of BEING when you left Buenos Aires? Didn’t you find yourself willing to throw out the car window the annoying weight of the gentleman writer, diplomat, and soldier Don Lucio Victorio Mansilla, nephew of so-and-so and uncle of so-and-so, known by half the world? Of course, it’s hard.”
“Freeing oneself from the past, which should not be confused with a lack of remembering. But that’s the only thing that saves nations and men.”
“You possess, like few of your compatriots, the necessary aptitude. Dare yourself to begin anew. If so many centuries in this world have taught me anything it’s that in the sphere of life, which is the only sphere we know, nothing is ever concluded, even if we propose that it be closed. Because a current greater than the individual lifts and drags him along.”
Merlin extinguished his pipe and began to stand up with his customary calm.
“Look at me, if you don’t believe it. I should have shuttered myself away after the death of Arthur. And nevertheless here I am, mixed up in the negligible history of the most southern nation in the world, and completely distanced from knight errantry. Although now that I think of it –”
Merlin laughed, scrutinizing me.
“What? Do I look funny to you?”
“No, you have a strange resemblance to a certain colleague from the Round Table, and not just your face. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always found you so congenial. You would have struck a fine figure in those days.”
Merlin put a friendly arm around my shoulder.
“Come. Let’s see if they’ll serve us a really good strong cup of coffee. Rosaura has prepared you an extra portion of fern seeds and some protective herbs. Eternity is young.”
English language translation © 2010 Brett Alan Sanders