About the book:
Maria Cristina Forero/Maria Moreno. In the beginning was the name, a middle-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires, a tenement full of stories, the resounding voice of her illiterate grandmother and an anxious mother who encouraged her to be a straight A student. In that not-so-long-ago past, there are radio dramas, forbidden books, abusive teachers, defeated hearts, and tango. There is a freaky proletarian girl who knows every trick in the book to avoid the terror of reading in public. The author chases traumas, and sheds light on the comings and goings of a personal journey through newsrooms, dealing with current affairs, politics, and feminism, until she finds her own voice, and tears off the masks concealed behind the names.
Ana had died. Outside the funeral home, I hesitated as I anticipated the anguish of entering and having to face her sisters and daughters. I had failed to prepare the words to go with the hug, whose strength and duration would be, I reckoned, the true message, rather than the words. My spontaneity is often clumsy and, above all, lacking in tact. In such cases, my shyness is selfish. Did the protocol matter? I just had to avoid breaking down in tears, and becoming the center of attention, turning the impossible consolation into a blunder. Yet the trays with Arab hors d'oeuvres, the flasks openly passing from hand to hand, and the general murmuring over the cheerful, a-bit-too-loud background music conveyed the spirit of Ana, oblivious to any melancholy. Her brother, the only guy among the Amado women, told humorous stories about her. He evoked her well-known absent-mindedness, her boldness to transgress official spaces with her inappropriately informal ways, and her marked provincial accent, which always made quite an impression, and ended up relaxing the mood and making her a wildly popular woman. Tamara and I had not seen each other at the wake, but in the morning, we suddenly found ourselves standing very close to the hearse, which was already closed and about to leave. Each of us read an evident shock in the other: it was as if we had collapsed without falling. Perhaps to overcome this loss, we resorted to what was familiar to us: thinking about language. So, we began to babble out on a hypothesis about what had moved us so much —in the midst of the already huge commotion—, and we agreed that it was the name written in white letters on black felt in the car window: Ana Maria Amado. "It's the name, it's always the name," Tamara said, even though I don't remember how that sentence ended, I don't recall the predicate. We were sure that the cross was not an incongruity, but rather a request from Ana, who used to surprise us with her faith amid her community of atheists —more so by default than as a reasoned practice. I felt that we were being entrusted with a secret: her middle name, the one that the dead usually reveal to us when it is too late to ask if they endorsed it, the one they kept in the dark out of shame or simply left aside to make a long story short. To others, we are almost always our first names, unless we have earned a nickname, a short pet name, a war name, or, in the worst case, an alias. "Ana Maria" is the name used for paperwork, examination records and, now, the inscription on her grave, followed by the date. (...) "Ana Maria Amado": I thought, only much later, that this loss of restraint, that shared moment of grief between Tamara and I, was due to the fact that we realized that it would be Ana who would never again come when we called her name, that others would say it out loud, would write it down to quote her, but she would never answer, she would never stand up or simply turn around, that is, her body would never move again in a certain direction because of a voice calling her name, beckoning her. (...) People change their name to run from the law, or to pursue, behind a concealed identity, another man they want to extort, someone they would not hesitate to kill (...) But you can choose a name and end up being taken for what the name describes. That happened to me. At a time when I identified myself with left-wing politics -mind you, do not mistake the vagueness in my statement for lack of commitment-, I had a gig writing for a men's magazine aimed at the pretentious bourgeoisie —to the point of calling itself Status. Half ashamed of my frivolous articles, which feigned a worldliness and savoir-faire that I lacked, I decided to create a pseudonym for myself with my first name (which I never used) and the last name of my then-husband --"Maria Moreno" sounded good and was easy to remember. Publicists always said that alliteration benefited celebrities, and to prove it, there was none other than Marilyn Monroe. Feminists criticized me because I was a divorcee who continued using my ex-husband's last name. Naturally, I did not see how keeping your father's last name instead could be called “emancipation”, and I justified myself by explaining that it was a much more complex rationale: in my innermost self, I wanted to be Marguerite Moreno, Collette’s friend, a writer I idolized to the point of plagiarism. I dreamed of taking her place when Colette wrote, over and over again, with great devotion, "the Moreno", to depict a superior version of lesbianism, one that relinquishes the body to share the world, and then sneer at it with irony, sisterly partners in crime in a quest for a higher emancipation: to love a man to a point where slavery becomes sovereignty. My identification with Marguerite Moreno was also intertwined with my childhood fascination for Mariano Moreno, due to the Argentinian forefather’s precocious intelligence and his romantic death on the high seas, which still remains a mystery: was it an unintentional overdose, which would make him a contemporary junkie, or was it a murder which has gone unpunished, for historians to delve into? Ah, that line by his nemesis: "It took so much water to extinguish so much fire!" All nonsense. I used the pen name "Maria Moreno" to write for Status magazine, where I interviewed the survivors of a decaying aristocracy that resisted the budding state-of-the-art design culture, behind the trenches of old furniture from their lost-and-then-repurchased stately homes. I feigned knowledge that I did not have, and I began to believe my own fiction, to the point of abandoning its rules: to the clichés of a presumed well-to-do girl, I soon added those of the bookstores on Corrientes Avenue, and the theoretical bibelots that I improvised surrounded by a band of self-taught men.
Translated by Ornella Piris Mannucci / Cecilia Della Croce