A Simple Story
Una historia sencilla
In January 2011, the Argentinean journalist Leila Guerriero travelled to a town with six thousand inhabitants, in the centre of her country. Her intention was to tell the story of a folkloric dance competition, as secret as it is prestigious, that has been taking place there since 1966: The National Festival of Malambo de Laborde. Malambo, a traditional dance among Argentine gauchos, consists of a sustained tapping of the feet, which, for its execution in the competition, requires great technical ability and uncommon levels of athletic training. During the five minutes that a show lasts, the dancer reaches speeds that demand similar amounts of energy to a runner of the hundred meters, only that they are not required to sustain it for nine seconds but for five minutes. The festival concludes every year with the coronation of a man who has, in the world of folklore, the repute of an Olympic hero and who is awarded with the title of champion. To safeguard the prestige of the contest, the champions have made a tacit pact: once they have won, they cannot return to compete again in the future. As a result, the malambo which grants them their crown is also the last ones of their lives. Guerriero arrived in Laborde with a simple idea: to understand why these men, all so young, all children of humble families, invest time and money training for years in order to achieve a title that is simultaneously the pinnacle of their success and the end of it. But the second night of the competition witnesses a dancer become paralysed on stage, and at that precise moment she decides that the story would no longer be about the history of the festival but also about that man: Rodolfo González Alcántara. And so she began to follow, first in Laborde, then in Buenos Aires, that son of a modest family that survived by giving music and folklore classes in primary institutes and schools in the urban sprawl of Buenos Aires. And in January of 1012, when he returned to compete in Laborde, Guerriero went with him. The result is this story filled with suspense and endearing characters such as Tonchi, a childhood friend of González Alcántara, who, despite suffering from serious health problems, travels to Laborde to see him dance. Also, his parents, who don’t have much money, and so in almost fellinesque circumstances rent a long distance bus in order to solve both problems of travel and accommodation. This bus stops all along the way, and is the place where they, as well as some neighbours and friends, live, eat and sleep for the six days of the festival. As the night of the competition approaches, González Alcántara begins to take on the dimensions of a tragic gladiator, a man who prepares himself for a moment of immense solitude in which he knows that he can win or lose it all. And Guerriero, from a distance as intimate as it is implacable, as deep as it stark, as discreet as it is intrusive, accompanies him on this journey up until the final night. A Simple Story tells the most difficult of epics: the epic of the common man. That of somebody who steadily moves forward through a dream urged on by the most dangerous of feelings: hope.
«A formidable writer who does not need to resort to fiction to tell real stories that seem too fantastic to be true… A complex book: like a dancing gaucho, whose movements could be compared to those of a gladiator or an athlete, her writing manages to express so much with so little» (El Periódico - Dominical).
«Investigating the mystery behind this mass phenomenon that obsesses thousands of young, working-class men, leading them to sacrifice their spare time, their diets, their physical strength and even their precarious finances to take part in this competition in the hot southern summer… Despite the subject matter, the story transcends parochialism to explore that common ground that has become the place of the human condition.And, as she has shown in her earlier works as a journalist, Leila Guerriero is a maestro in this terrain» (Cayetano Sánchez, Canarias 7).
«When I read the synposis, I thought this would not interest me: on first reading it seems obscure, remote and strange. But this story captures your interest from the first page… An exciting work that mixes reportage and fiction; a book that is both moving and strangely familiar. Because the characters that populate it seem to have something that we once had, something that still exists in a lot of families. Something that many of us would love to have again. A pleasant surprise» (Antonio Martínez Asensio, Blog Tiempo de Silencio en Antena3.com).
«Fascinating… Leila Guerriero´s readers will recognise the best of her skills as a journalist in Una historia sencilla. First, she shows us a secret, then she introduces us to the guardians of that secret and finally she reveals the secret which —like Poe´s letters—, was always within our reach» (Fernando Iwasaki, El Mercurio, Chile).
«Guerriero captures the existential complexity of malambo not only as the artistic manifestation of stoic frontier culture, but also as the living expression of an enduring dream» (Kapka Kassabova, Times Literary Supplement).
«An epic of noble proportions... Guerriero is a mistress of the telling phrase or the revealing detail» (Spectator).
You can read an excerpt in English in here.
Leila Guerriero was born in 1967, in Junín, in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She began her journalistic career in 1991 in the magazine Página/30. Since then her work has appeared in various media of Latin America and Europe: Argentina’s La Nación and Rolling Stone; Spain’s El País; Brazil’s Piauí; Colombia’s El Malpensante and SoHo; Mexico’s Gatopardo; Chile’s Paula and El Mercurio; the United Kingdom’s Granta; Germany’s Lettre Internationale; and Italy’s L’Internazionale; among others. She is the Latin America’s editor for the Mexican magazine Gatopardo.
She has written the books Los suicidas del fin del mundo (Tusquets, 2004), Frutos extraños (Aguilar, Alfaguara, 2009), Plano americano (Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, 2013; Anagrama, 2018); Una historia sencilla (Anagrama, 2013); Zona de obras (Círculo de Tiza, Anagrama, 2014); Opus Gelber (Anagrama, 2019); Teoría de la gravedad (Libros del Asteroide, 2019); and La otra guerra (Anagrama, 2021).
She has received the CEMEX-FNPI Prize, the González Ruano Prize, the Grand Prix Blue Metropolis Prize, and the Manuel Vázquez Montalbán Prize for Cultural and Political Journalism. Since 2011, she does editing work for Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales in Chile. She directs the Mirada Crónica Collection of Tusquets Argentina . She is a member of the Board at the Fundación Gabo, founded by Gabriel García Márquez. Her work has been translated into English, French, German, Swedish, Portuguese, Italian, and Polish.