pig war diary



Like a pandemic: commentary on the book by Adolfo Bioy Casares

“He thought for the first time that he understood why it was said that life is a dream: if someone lives a long time, the deeds of his life, like those of a dream, become incommunicable because no one cares. The same people, after being dead, become dream characters for those who survive them; fade away, are forgotten, like dreams that were convincing, but that nobody wants to hear” (Adolfo Bioy Casares)

The first edition of pig war diary [Pig War Diary], by Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1989), was published in 1969. I wrote the text you are reading using the 16a. printing of the book (1985), with a print run of 2 copies. There is information that until that moment – ​​therefore, from 1969 to 1985 – 59 copies had been sold, which I understand already constituted a work that greatly pleased Argentine readers.

My copy was bought in Buenos Aires in October 1991, in the extinct I promise books (Avenida Corrientes, 1920), for exactly seven pesos. After a few months I started reading it, but I couldn't move forward. I found him not very pleasant. The copy remained dusty for a long time on various shelves and in different places, until last September, almost thirty years later, I was convinced by Ricardo Musse to resume reading it, who insisted on its topicality. That's what I did, and more: I watched the 1975 film version, directed by the great Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (1924-1978), with a script by Beatriz Guido, Luis Pico Estrada and Leopoldo himself, with music by Gato Barbieri and with José Slavin and Marta González in the lead roles.

When he wrote this book, Bioy Casares was 54 years old and published it at 55. He was already a recognized author in his country and abroad. He had finally published, among others, the novels La Morel's invention (1940) Escape plan (1945) The sueño de los heroes (1954), in addition to nine volumes of short stories, five books with his friend Jorge Luis Borges (with whom he also wrote three screenplays: Los orilleros, 1955; The Paradise of the believers, 1955; Invasion, 1969, resulting in an excellent film directed by Hugo Santiago) and another novel, Those who love, hate (1946), with his wife, the writer Silvina Ocampo.

the plot of pig war diary is falsely simple: for nine days, from Monday, June 23rd to Tuesday, July 01st, in an icy Buenos Aires, an implacable war takes place, difficult to be appropriated and explained, in which the protagonist, a man who is entering the old age faces, with their companions who frequent the same cafe where they drink and play cards, a society in which the young eliminate the old.

Therefore, old age is the generational shock, with young people blaming the elderly for all the problems they face. Bioy, as I wrote in the previous paragraph, was just over fifty years old, which was the approximate age at which people retired at the time. After those nine gloomy days, the telenovela dedicates seven more pages, with an item entitled “A few days later”, to conclude the adventure experienced by “Isidoro Vidal, known in the neighborhood as don Isidro” (p. 9) [1]. He used to be a teacher and lives with his son in a kind of tenement, a large dwelling where sewing studios and dozens of other residents live together in their rooms. The book was not well received in Europe when it was released, precisely because most of the readers were the same age as the old people in the novel.

The reading of this daily, at the beginning, caused me some discomfort, a feeling that lasted for about seventy something pages. Afterwards it dissipates reasonably, although with each paragraph a strong tension is present. It is known that disaster will come, although its extent cannot be gauged. Well, in terms: the tone is somber, harsh, but not necessarily pessimistic, the presence of love being a characteristic of the author's works, which ends up mitigating adverse realities.

The action begins with the tenant Isidro practically confined, for a few days now, in his room and the adjoining room, where his son lives, leaving only to go to the bathroom, located at the other end of the building, being forced to cross two courtyards. He is discouraged, stating that “he has reached a moment in life when tiredness does not serve to sleep and dreams do not serve to rest” (p. 19-20).

He ends up going out at night and going to the cafe to meet his friends. After a few games of truco and glasses of fernet in the usual cafe, they head home. But on the way they are surprised by screams, insults, noise of irons and plates, someone breathing in a panting way, in a nearby passage. They get scared: a group of young people armed with sticks and iron bars had just slaughtered an old man they knew. Startled, they disappear as fast as they can.

The next morning Isidro walks through the streets, noticing that “some passers-by look at him in a way that he finds uncomfortable” (p. 23). He goes to the bakery and is treated rudely by the maids. The caretaker of your building also does not act in a way that seems pleasant to you. When talking to one of the friends, he tells him that he does not go to the funeral of the murdered old man, adding that it is understandable that they do not like old people, as they are always the first to arrive everywhere, they are unpleasant and he concludes: “in In short, a bad combination: impatience and slow reflexes. It's not a miracle that they don't love us” (p. 34).

The situation now being experienced in Buenos Aires is tragic for the elderly: hordes of athletic young men roam the city chasing weak and slow old people. Vidal and his friends observe and hear chilling reports: little by little many of the members of their age group, including neighbors, begin to disappear or are murdered; Huberman, “the old bald guy”, was shot inside his car because, with his slow reflexes, he was slow to move forward when the light turned green for him. The shooter declared to a newspaper: “this old man was the victim of an irritation that I have accumulated over similar situations, because of similar old people. (...) The temptation to aim at this bald spot, centered by the wide open ears, was too much for me” (p. 49-50). After being arrested, the murderer is soon released by the police.

Antonia, a resident of the residence, said that she was harassed by one of Isidro's friends, and comments to her friend Nélida that “no old man like that should be left alive” (p.51). One of the cafe's visitors narrated that a wealthy woman, "the old woman with cats", who left her house every day to feed her kittens, was attacked by a horde of young people on the corner where she lived and beaten to death, with the connivance of several passers-by (p. 59). Another mentioned the case of a grandfather who “was a burden on the family and was eliminated by two granddaughters aged six and eight” (p. 59). And a third, afraid of being attacked, dyed his hair and asked the group's opinion, having heard the following comment, on Saturday, June 28: “there are people to whom gray hair disgusts and infuriates; in turn, others are angered by an old man with dyed hair (…) An old man with dyed hair causes irritation” (p. 65).

Trucks from the Dog Capture Division circulate through the city, looking for the old people in their homes, capturing them and taking them away in cages (p. 135). Vidal walks through the streets and hears a noise and gets scared; it was no threat. He thinks: “In old age everything is sad and ridiculous: even the fear of dying” (p. 78). However, shortly afterwards he is attacked by bottles thrown at him (p. 83), with the complacency of pedestrians; he manages to escape and, at home, is helped by young Nélida, who leads him to the bedroom. He begins to realize, finally, that there is indeed an invisible war, real and symbolic, against the old and, also, against the relentless passage of time.

Even at home Isidro faces problems: his son hides him in the attic of the building where they live, because a group of young people gather in his room and he fears for his father's life. However, the big shock comes with the death of Néstor, trampled on the tribune of the football field, with the connivance of his young son.

O jornal Last Minute says that the “war on the pig” is taking place. This is because, they say, “old people are selfish, materialistic, voracious, snoring. Real pigs” (p. 101). At Néstor's wake, Arévalo, a former journalist and member of the gang, says: “In this war, young people kill out of hatred against the old man they will become. A rather frightened hate…” (p. 117).

On Monday, June 30, a newspaper vendor refuses to sell Vidal the diary. Friend Jimi disappears. They look for him all over the neighborhood and can't find him. After the wake, the procession heads to the cemetery to bury Néstor, and the cars are attacked with a hail of stones, many windows are broken, some of the companions are wounded in the head, but manage to escape the murderous fury (p.141 -142). However, there are not only thorns: Nélida throws herself on Isidro and takes him to bed. She says she is going to break off the engagement and invites him to live with her in a nearby neighborhood, in the house he inherited after the death of a relative (p. 148-153).

On Tuesday, the first of July, they discover that the missing Jimi has been kidnapped and that his captors have released him. Wounded, he was admitted to a hospital, receiving a visit from Isidro and two friends. They leave soon and it remains for Isidro to talk to Dr. Cadelago, It is worth recovering parts of that dialogue, contained on pages 193-4. Isidro asks Cadelago if he understood this war as “a phenomenon that ends”. The doctor's answer leaves him a little disconcerted: “the psychiatry service is not able to care for young people. They all come for the same problem: apprehension of touching old people. A real disgust. (…) The hand refuses (…) There is a new irrefutable fact: the identification of the young with the old. Through this war, they understood in an intimate, painful way, that every old person is the future of some young person. Their own, perhaps! Another curious fact: the young person invariably elaborates the following fantasy: killing an old man is equivalent to committing suicide (…) every normal child (…) at some point in his development starts gutting cats. I did too! Then we erase these games from our memory, we eliminate them, we excrete them. The current war will pass without leave souvenir”. [emphasis mine]

Leaving the hospital, he takes a taxi and goes after Nélida. She has another dialogue with the young driver that seems significant to her. The driver says he understands the pain for his friend's death, but he understands that things are moving that way, that neither of them is satisfied with the state of things, with the way those responsible created the reality that surrounds them. Isidro Vidal asks who those responsible are and the taxi driver replies: “those who invented the world” and that the old “represent the past. Young people don't go around killing heroes, the great men of history, for a very good reason: they are dead” (p. 200). There is also the tragic episode of his son being run over and killed by a truck, and the truck driver, “with an almost affable smile”, explained to him: “One less traitor” (p. 211).

After nine days, like a pandemic, like a serious illness that is cured with some costs, sometimes heavy, everything seemed to belong to the past. One has, in reading, the sensation of a transition between the real and the fantastic. Apparently, the elderly are no longer struggling, as they were at the height of the crisis, between their desire to carry on with their normal lives. indignation and fear.

Isidro Vidal returns to the cafe after leaving the warmth of Nélida's arms. He is greeted by his friends, someone else takes the place of Néstor (who was killed in the war) at the gaming table and everything goes excellently with him, who, with his partners, wins every game. They play until late hours. He gets up to leave and, asked where he is going, replies that he doesn't know – “and resolutely leaves in the night, because he wanted to go back alone” (p. 218).

*Afranio Catani, retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF, he is the author, among other books, of what is capitalism (Brazilian).



Adolfo Bioy Casares, Pig War Diary. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, 16th. impression, 1985, 218 pages.

Adolfo Bioy Casares. pig war diary. Translation: José Geraldo Couto. São Paulo, Cosac and Naify, 2010.


[1] I used the Argentine edition of the book by Bioy Casares. The translations of the excerpts cited in this article were made by me.


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