Saer, Juan José 1937-

views updated

SAER, Juan José 1937-


Born June 28, 1937, in Serodino, Santa Fé, Argentina; son of José and María (Anoch) Saer; married twice; children: two. Education: Attended Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, beginning 1958; studied law briefly.


Home—Paris, France. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Seix Barral, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Fiction writer and journalist. El Litoral (newspaper), Santa Fé, Argentina, reporter, 1958; Instituto de Cinematografía, Universidad Nacional del Litoral, Santa Fé, instructor, beginning 1962; worked as a door-to-door salesman, c. late 1950s; University of Rennes, Rennes, France, lecturer, then associate professor of Latin-American literature and maitre de conférences beginning 1983.


Nadal prize (Spain), 1987; Prix Roger Calloix (France), 1999.



Responso, Jorge Alvarez (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1964.

La vuelta completa, Bblioteca Popular Connstancio C. Vigil (Rosario, Argentina), 1966.

Cicatrices (title means "Scars"), Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1969.

El limonero real (title means "The Royal Lemon Tree"), Planeta (Barcelona, Spain), 1974.

Nadie nada nunca, Sigio Ventiuno (Mexico City, Mexico), 1980, translated by Helen Lane as Nobody Nothing Never, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1993.

El entenado, Folios (Mexico City, Mexico), 1983, translated by Margaret Jull Costa as The Witness, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1990.

Glosa, Alianza (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1986.

La ocasión, Destino (Barcelona, Argentina), 1988, translated by Helen Lane as The Event, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1995.

Lo imborrable, Alianza (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1993.

La pesquisa, Seix Barral (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1994, translated by Helen Lane as The Investigation, Serpent's Tail (London, England), 1999.

Las nubes, Seix Barral (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1997.


En la zona, 1957-1960, Castellví (Santa Fé, Argentina), 1960.

Palo y hueso (short stories; title means "Wood and Bone"), Cameda Junior (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1965.

Unidad de lugar (short stories), Galerna (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1967.

El arte de narrar: Poemas, 1960-1975, Fundación para la Cultura y las Artes del Distrito Federal (Caracas, Venezuela), 1977, expanded as El arte de narrar: Poemas, 1960-1987, Seix Barral (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2000.

La mayor (short stories), Centro Editor de América Latina (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1982.

Narraciones (collected works), two volumes, Centro Editor de América Latina (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1983.

Una literatura sin atributos (nonfiction), Universidad Nacional del Litoral (Santa Fé, Argentina), 1986.

Juan José Saer por Juan José Saer (collected works), Celtia (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1986.

El arte de narrar, Universidad Nacional del Litoral (Santa Fé, Argentina), 1988.

Por un relato futuro: Diálogo—Ricardo Piglia, Juan José Saer, Universidad Nacional del Litoral (Santa Fé, Argentina), 1990, published as Diálogo, 1995.

El río sin orillas: tratado imaginario (nonfiction), Alianza (Madrid, Spain), 1991.

La selva espesa, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico City, Mexico), 1994.

El concepto de ficción (nonfiction), Ariel (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1997.

La narración-objeto (nonfiction), Seix Barral (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1999.

Lugar (short stories), Seix Barral (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2000.

(With Hugo Gola and Hugo Padeletti) La trama bajo las apariencias: la pintura de Fernando Espino (criticism), Universidad Nacional del Litoral (Santa Fé, Argentina), 2000.

Cuentos completos, 1957-2000, Seix Barral (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2001.

Author of movie scripts, c. 1960s.

Saer's works have been translated into several languages.


Films adapted from Saer's works include Nadie nada nunca, directed by Raúl Beceyro and produced by Instituto Nacional de Cinematografía, 1988, and Cicatrices, directed by Patricio Coll, produced 2001.


Although he left Argentina at the start of his writing career, in 1968, Juan José Saer remains a regionalist writer, "deeply rooted …in the part of the vast grasslands or pampas of the province of Santa Fé where he lived during his formative years," explained Nick Caistor in an essay for Contemporary World Writers. As a son of Syrian immigrants to South America living in his adopted France, Saer has gone on to write a group of novels that, inspired by and yet breaking with the traditions established by other Argentinian writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, have been "freed" due to their author's self-imposed exile, "from the narrowness of much of what has been written" in Argentina in the late twentieth century. According to Caistor, Saer has been free to experiment with his own literary style, and has become known for his "bold, probing use of the Spanish language." Calling Saer a "canonical figure" within Latin American literature, Times Literary Supplement contributor Martin Schifino hailed the Argentine-born writer as "among the most distinctive Spanish stylists" of the second half of the twentieth century.

Affiliated with the Grupo Adverbio formed by young Argentinian intellectuals during the 1950s, Saer wrote poems, short stories, and essays. As Evelia Romano explained in Latin American Writers, "In Saer's early work, the preference for marginal characters, countrymen, and urban workers; a fascination with rendering their spoken language; and minute descriptions of their daily activities to reveal psychological processes are among the techniques that reflect [Grupo Adverbio's] …neorealistic influence." Another influence was Saer's interest in cinema, particularly the films of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni.

Saer's most widely read novel, published in English translation as The Witness, focuses on a young man named Juan Díaz de Solis, a fifteen-year-old cabin boy who becomes the sole survivor of a 1515 expedition to Argentina. Stranded among the native tribes for a decade, de Solis witnesses the cannibalism the natives practice during an annual ceremony, and on his return to Spain cannot wholly readjust to European civilization. As Amanda Hopkinson explained in her Times Literary Supplement review, de Solis "has lost all sense of his own reality" and during the "picaresque travels in love-life Spain" following his return, for de Solis "there is no sense of return, recognition or belonging. On the contrary, the former cabin-boy turned religious hermit then strolling actor retains an Indian vocabulary that treats 'being' and 'seeming' as synonymous." The text of The Witness is written in the form of a life history of de Solis as an elderly man who has retired to a comfortable life in a Spanish monastery. According to Romano, characteristic of Saer's more mature works, The Witness is "distinguished by a more linear organization of the story and a noticeable reduction in the repetition of scenes and narrative sequences." Despite its lack of complexity, the novel succeeds as an "imaginative …and thought-provoking work" that Choice contributor J. Walker cited as both an examination of the nature of native Americans and an exploration of "philosophical concepts like existence, reality, time, memory, being, nothingness, and …otherness."

Other novels by Saer translated into English include The Event, a 1987 novel that focuses on a nineteenth-century English telepath who flees to the pampas of Argentina after being exposed as a fake. In Nobody Nothing Never, the English translation of Saer's 1980 novel Nadie nada nunca, the mysterious shooting of horses in the town of Rincon prompts Don Layo to send his prized animals to safety before the situation descends into political violence. Praising the book as a "rich and complex novel," New York Times Book Review contributor James Polk cited in particular the author's heady mix of "conflict, characters and symbols" and the "precise and lively" translation by Helen Lane. Nobody Nothing Never is "wonderfully evocative of imminent political violence, tension, fear, languor and the furtive excitement of illicit love," wrote M. Wynn Thomas in the Times Literary Supplement, while in the Review of Contemporary Fiction contributor Jack Byrne dubbed it "an antidote to the excesses of magic realism." Saer's Cuentos completos, 1957-2000 were released to Spanish-speaking readers in 2001.



Contemporary World Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993, p. 452.

Latin American Writers, Supplement One, edited by Carlos A. Solé, Scribner's (New York, NY), 2002, pp. 517-527.


Choice, January, 1992, J. Walker, review of The Witness, p. 750.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1995, review of The Event, p. 979.

Latin American Literary Review, June, 1993, Rita De Grandis, "The First Colonial Encounter in El entenado: Paratextuality and History in Postmodern Fiction," pp. 30-38.

New Statesman & Society, November 30, 1990, Nick Caistor, review of The Witness, p. 39.

New York Times Book Review, July 17, 1994, James Polk, review of Nobody Nothing Never, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1991, review of The Witness, p. 55; May 30, 1994, review of Nobody Nothing Never, p. 50.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1995, Jack Byrne, review of Nobody Nothing Never, p. 170.

Revista Iberoamericana, October-December, 1983, pp. 965-981.

Times Literary Supplement, January 4, 1991, Amanda Hopkinson, review of The Witness, p. 16; March 25, 1994, M. Wynn Thomas, review of Nobody Nothing Never, p. 22; August 2, 2002, Martin Schifino, review of Cuentos completos, 1957-2000, p. 21.

Translation Review Supplement, December, 1999, review of The Investigation, p. 33.

Washington Post Book World, September 10, 1995, review of The Event, p. 12.


Literatura Argentina Contemporánea Web site, (September, 1999), "Juan José Saer."*