Up in smoke

Ricardo Piglia’s Brechtian Money to Burn asks pressing questions about the ambivalent nature of capitalism


Money to Burn
Ricardo Piglia
2004, Granta Books
256 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

AS RADICAL as understanding the results of C2H5OH + 4O2 >2 CO2 + 3 H2O, Money to Burn (Plata Quemada) is a Brechtian novel based on true events, now well known in Argentina, that occurred in Buenos Aires in 1965.

A criminal gang, renowned for its cruelty and ruthlessness, robs a bank delivery van, kills a few people in the process, manages to cross the frontier into Uruguay then, when finally cornered by the police during a 15-hour siege, whimsically decides to burn the 7,203,960 pesos that they were unable to spend.

Piglia, a former assistant editor for noir novels influenced considerably by a North American writer, Steve Ratliff, has crafted an exhilarating narrative that feeds directly off law-abiding society’s love-hate relationship with those who choose live outside the law.

It is all laced up with morbid and mesmerising essential touches, such as drug taking, homosexuality and pure evil presented from the author’s alter ego in a reportage style.

Ambiguity and sensuality

The story of the twins Dorda and Brignone remains heavily etched on the Argentine psyche, but its merit remains in the fact that, by telling this tale, Piglia (whose other book Artificial Respiration reflects upon the tragic repression of the 1970s in Argentina) asks questions about the ambivalent nature of capitalism.

The gang’s decision not to play the police’s game of bribery, instead choosing death as a way of transgressing the national rule, is what appeals most to the reader.

The story is recounted by mixing commentary about the true nature of duality, how to disseminate the truth and which events get lost in a story, codes of honour and the author’s own meditations of the philosophical and Brechtian question: what is robbing a bank compared to founding one?

Amanda Hopkinson’s translation captures well the spirit of this novel and Money to Burn was also the inspiration behind the gay film Burnt Money, by Marcelo Piñeyro, whose script Piglia contributed to.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

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