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Dream of Heroes (1954)

by Adolfo Bioy Casares

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This is a great idea-- for a little tale, maybe even an extended short story-- but somehow I ended up feeling it was too bad Bioy Casares didn't have his great friend Borges' love of brevity in this case. The narrative padding he adds between Gauna and his inevitable destiny isn't interesting enough for its own sake. The whole story's too easy to reduce to a single line: a woman's true love is not enough to overcome a man's overwhelming desire for violence. Which is either too simply and patly true, or not true at all, in which case the you'd have to dismiss the whole story. Still has some worthwhile moments. ( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
In this novel Casares returns to the topics of time and memory that made The Invention of Morel such a fascinating experience. It’s 1927 and Emilio Gauna, a lowlife mechanic from Buenos Aires wins a thousand pesos at the horse tracks: being young and having no responsibilities, family or love, he decides to blow it all with his friends, local street thugs who dream of becoming famous criminals, on a three-night binge during the Carnival. But on the third night something happens, or so Gauna believes, something important to him that he can’t remember in his drunken stupor but which lingers in his mind nostalgically. Finding out what it was that happened becomes his obsession.

Dream of Heroes is less fantastic than The Invention of Morel and A Plan for Escape: whereas Casares’ first two novels are straight Kafkaesque science-fiction nightmares, this one is more a novel about growing up and defying fate: in the course of the narrative Gauna leaves his old friends, whom he considers failures, to settle down in marriage, a role he never accepts completely, and become a respectable person. But being a family man stops him from investigating the mysterious night that haunts his hazy memory. Although Gauna sees marriage as a hindrance to him, in a heartbreaking twist at the end of the novel, it proves to be the only chance at living he ever had.

Then one day in 1930 history seems to repeat itself when Gauna wins a thousand pesos at the horse tracks again: attempting to reconstruct the events of 1927 to restore his memory, he invites his old friends for a new three-night binge through Buenos Aires. Gauna immediately faces the problems of reliving the past as old friends went way, places closed down and even the atmosphere and habits changed. And strangely his friends don’t seem to remember certain episodes that Gauna is sure happened, so maybe they’re conspiring against him or perhaps he’s insane. Casares, expert at creating tension, keeps all possibilities open until the denouement, one of the most beautiful and tragic endings to any novel I’ve ever read.

This was a fine novel, not as mind-blowing or tightly-plotted as Casares’ first two novels, but what it misses in plot and tension it gains in character study. Emilio Gauna is perhaps everyone: he’s the man who wants to go back in time, the ultimate nostalgic, yearning for something he doesn’t fully understand, the man not content with what he already has, who can’t see his life is already written for him. Fans of intensely fatalistic novels like The Outsider or Slaughterhouse-Five, should enjoy Dream of Heroes. ( )
2 vote Heteronym | Sep 22, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bioy Casares, Adolfoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pol, Barber van deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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