Foreword by Michael Greenberg
Afterword by Ricardo Piglia
Translated by Daniella Gitlin
Available for the first time in English: a game-changing classic of true crime from Argentina, 1957, by a Latin American literary hero whose courage to find the truth eventually condemned him to death.
Buenos Aires, 1956. Argentina has just lost its charismatic president Juan Perón in a military coup, and terror reigns across the land. June 1956: 18 people are reported dead in a "secret" execution, a failed uprising. December 1956: high school dropout, sometime journalist, detective story writer, unpoliticized chess aficionado Rodolfo Walsh learns by chance that one of the executed civilians is alive. He hears that there may be more than one survivor. Walsh hears an unbelievable story and believes it on the spot. And right there, the monumental classic Operation Massacre is born.
Walsh made it his mission to find not only the survivors but widows, orphans, conspirators, political refugees, fugitives, alleged informers, and anonymous heroes, in order to find out what happened that night, sending him on a journey that took over the rest of his life.
Originally published in 1957, Operation Massacre thoroughly and breathlessly recounts the night of the execution and its fallout.
Appendices include Walsh's famous “Open Letter from a Writer to the Military Junta,” which he sent to the country's major newspapers one day before he was kidnapped and killed in 1977.
Ricardo Piglia, one of Argentina’s greatest writers, is dead. In 2013, we published Piglia’s afterword to Rodolfo Walsh’s Operation Massacre. It contains not only a penetrating analysis of Walsh’s book, but also a good deal of critical insight into the nature of writing under totalitarianism. Find an excerpt below. Here, Piglia is elaborating on Valéry’s notion that the forces of fiction, not merely bodily force, are used by all states to implement order. As we in the U.S. read over and over today of the President-to-be’s plans to “drain the swamp,” the relevance of Piglia’s idea is hard to miss.
From the afterword:
What matters in not only the content of these State fictions, not just the material that they manipulate, but also the form that they take. To begin to understand their form, we can look to the methods and devices used to construct them. During the period of the military dictatorship, for example, one of the stories being constructed was what we might call the surgical story, a story that pertained to bodies. The military used a medical metaphor to explain what they were doing. They concealed everything that was happening, but simultaneously did say what was happening, just in the form of a story about dickens and health. They spoke of Argentina as a sick body that had a tumor, a cancer that was spreading—this was the subversive element or revolution—and the role of the military was to operate on it. As doctors, their work was aseptic, beyond good and evil, an appropriate response to the needs of science, which calls for destruction and mutilation for the sake of saving a life. Everything that was secret was actually revealed in this story, just displaced. There were, as in every story, two stories being told: there was the attempt to make people believe that Argentina was a sick society and that the military was coming in from the outside as technicians to fix the problem, and then there was the idea that a painful operation had to be performed without anesthesia. That was the discourse, the fictional version, that the State used: it told the truth about what it was doing, but in a covert and allegorical way.