In one of his most revealing essays, Ricardo Piglia extracted a lesson from an experience retold by Che in his Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War. It was in Alegría de Pío, after the Granma expedition's landing, when he thought the end was at hand and recalled the main character in Jack London's To build a fire, leaning on a tree trunk awaiting death.
Piglia concludes, "This image that Guevara evokes, at the moment he imagines he is about to die, condenses that which readers of fiction seek; it is someone finding, in a scene he has read, an ethical model, a model of conduct, the purest form of the experience."
Precisely by conjuring up vital, literary experiences in a coherent and honest fashion is how Ricardo Piglia wove his existence. For many, the Argentine writer, who died as the result of a heart attack related to the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis he suffered, this past January 6 in Buenos Aires, at 75 years of age, was one of the best storytellers in Latin America, over the last 40 years.
Now that he is dead, Piglia lives on his books. He never stopped writing, until his illness defeated him. There are his collections of short stories Assumed Name (1975), Perpetual Prison (1988) and Moral Tales (1995); the novels Artificial Respiration (1980), The Absent City (1992), Burnt Money (1997), Nocturnal Target (2010) and One Way Road (2013); the essays Criticism and Fiction (1986), Brief Forms (1999) and The Last Reader (2005).
Others recall his appearances at the University of Buenos Aires, and at Harvard and Princeton in the United States, or the public television programs he did in his native country: Escenas de la novela argentina (2012) and Borges por Piglia (2013).
Readers thank Piglia for the consistency with which he was able to link action, description, and reflection. He understood very well what he held. In one of his notebooks, he wrote, "When we say that we can't put a novel down it's because we want to continue hearing the voice that is narrating. Beyond the intrigue and unexpected events, there is a tone that decides how the story moves and flows. This is not about style - elegance in the use of words - but rather the cadence and intensity of the story. Definitely, the tone defines the relationship the narrator maintains with the story."
These principles sustain two novels that must be revisited: Artificial respiration and Burnt Money. If Borges and Bioy Casares introduced their trademark refined intelligence into Argentine crime novels, Piglia marked it with political intrigue, social violence, existential crises, without going over the edge of boorish sociology.
In Cuba, the Casa de las Américas published several of his novels and dedicated its 2000 Author Week to him. Early in his career, he received an honorable mention in the Casa Prize competition for his collection of short stories Jaulario.
Essayist Jorge Fornet, director of the institution's Literary Research Center, is one of the most well-known scholars who has investigated Piglia's work, to whom he dedicated the book El escritor y la tradición.
Since Piglia's death was announced, friends, critics, and readers in practically all Spanish-speaking countries continue to comment on his legacy. Argentine Damián Orosz summarized these sentiments in the following words, "He was an unstoppable writer, full time, gifted with a lucidity that opened inexistent paths and produced new ways of reading."