19 September 1999

Book Review: Bad Times in Buenos Aires (1999), by Miranda France, ****


In 1993 Miranda France moved to South America, drawn to Buenos Aires as the intellectual hub of the continent, with its wealth of writers and its romantic, passionate and tragic history. She found that is was all these things, but it was also a terrible place to live. The inhabitants of Buenos Aires are famously unhappy. All over South America they are known for their arrogance, their fixation of Europe and their moodiness.

Very soon, Miranda France encounters' bronca' - the simmering and barely controllable rage that is a staple feature of life in the Argentinian capital. She finds that 'bronca' has deep roots: the violence and racism of the first European settlers; the dictatorships, especially in the 1970s when so many 'disappeared'; even Evita Peron, for there was no rage to rival Evita's. 


Like many English travel writers, Ms. France blends very well in the society she describes, and captures masterfully all kinds of moods, nuances and details. Her choice of subject for the ten chapters is a happy one, perhaps with the exception of the chapter on the pampas, a bit out of pace with the rest. Unfortunately, despite all her (I am sure, genuinely) best effort, English travelers abroad can never leave home a sort of superiority complex so that foreign ways of doing things inevitably end up looking just a bit silly! She might benefit from reading Tim Parks' books on Italy: both France and Parks clearly love their subject countries, but she can not help looking down upon Argentina... albeit perhaps unconsciously! Parks does not look down upon Italy, or at least not as openly! A great collection of pictures well worth reading!

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