El otro Gómez by Diego Paszkowski adopts a characteristically Argentine approach to the question of identity
El otro Gómez
2001, Sudamericana (Argentina)
Reviewed by Eugene Carey
IT IS TELLING that a considerable portion of the fiction coming out of Latin America is devoted to crime, although whether this represents a proportionate reflection of the concerns of the writing and reading public in the region or a more fundamental trend is hard to gauge.
Crime is a genre that sells, and authors need to sell in order to keep writing; crime also translates well to the screen, so it is possible that authors are writing with that in mind; and crime is an urban preoccupation, and the writers who dominate the literary infrastructure of countries such as Argentina and Uruguay are urban beasts.
But perhaps most importantly, and not unrelated to the above, many of the younger writers coming into print have worked as journalists who honed their skills at the screens of busy newsrooms. They have not only been immersed in the reality of crime in Latin America, but as a result have also had access to the valuable concrete information it generates that enables them to give their work gritty authenticity.
Alongside the Brazilian Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s December Heat, Diego Paszkowski’s El otro Gómez (2001) is one of the better works of crime fiction to come out of the region recently and has clearly benefited from its author’s experience as a journalist but also as a teacher of literature. It displays a careful attention both to the technical aspects of narrative that have some relationship with reporting, but also to broader sociological questions of identity and status within the criminal mind that have a literary genealogy.
El otro Gómez tells the story of William Puente, a harmless accountant at a Buenos Aires bank who is mistaken for the powerful second-in-command of a Bolivian drug cartel, Alberto Gómez, and so substituted for the missing capo by his sinister sidekick Valdivia. Puente begins to live – and enjoy – the material and sexual rewards of a figure for whom money is no real object and whose authority and power know few bounds.
Paszkowski wrestles with a theme that has attracted legions of writers, and the idea of mistaken identity is by no means new to fiction and film. An esteemed predecessor of Paszkowski, Borges no less, asserted that the self does not exist and made this a fundamental thread throughout his writing. The introverted dimension of Paszkowski’s protagonist gives his contribution to this genre a similarly Argentine flavour, and he explores through Puente this notion of self denial in its truest sense with some dexterity.
He achieves this by placing such temptation before the pedestrian Puente – fine clothes, beautiful women, unquestioning respect – that even when the trials, betrayals and violence surrounding this mediocre man’s assumed character begin to threaten his life, the desire to return to his old, forgettable personality becomes less powerful than his wonder at being reborn.
Paszkowski is a gifted storyteller whose own curriculum has included much work on the ground helping others realise their own literary potential, and his style displays editing skills that it is likely only journalists and other editors will recognise.
Although the plot of El otro Gómez is, ultimately, disappointing – ironically because it remains so trapped within the mind of Puente himself – it can be seen as the expression of a work in progress in which the work in question is the author himself. It comes as no surprise to learn that Paszkowski – winner of the Premio de Novela 1998 of La Nación for his Tesis sobre un homicidio – moved away from crime fiction for his third novel, Alrededor de Lorena, which explores a woman’s feelings. This is an encouraging direction for Paszkowski to be moving in, given his skill at exploring the thoughts and feelings of his main characters. We might conclude, hopefully, that for this Argentine writer at least, crime no longer pays.
Eugene Carey is a journalist