The Fabulous Schiaffino Boys

Nazi Literature in the Americas BY Roberto Bolano. edited by Chris Andrews. New Directions. Hardcover, 280 pages. $23.

The cover of Nazi Literature in the Americas

It is probably true to say that no poet has ever been more diligent than Italo Schiaffino, not among his contemporaries in Buenos Aires at any rate, in spite of which was he was eventually overshadowed by the growing reputation of his younger brother, Argentino Schiaffino, also a poet.

The boys came from a humble family, and there were only two passions in Italo’s life: football and literature. At fifteen, two years after leaving school to work as an errand boy in Don Ercole Massantonio’s hardware store, he joined Enzo Raúl Castiglione’s gang, one of the many groups of Boca Juniors hooligans that existed at the time.

He soon made headway. In 1968, when Castiglione was imprisoned, Italo Schiaffino took over the leadership of the group, and wrote his first poem (his first recorded poem, in any case) and his first manifesto. The poem, entitled Cower, Hounds!, is three hundred lines long, and his friends from the gang could recite the highlights by heart. Basically, it is a war poem; in the words of Schiaffino, “a kind of Iliad for the Boca boys.” A thousand copies were printed in 1969 with money raised by subscription. The edition contained a preface by Doctor Pérez Heredia in which he welcomed the new poet to the Argentine Parnassus. The manifesto was a different matter. In five pages, Schiaffino explained the situation of soccer in Argentina, lamented the crisis, identified the guilty parties (the Jewish plutocracy, which hadn’t produced a single good player, and the Red intelligentsia, responsible for the nation’s decadence). He indicated the danger and explained the ways to exorcise it. The manifesto was called The Time of Argentine Youth, and in the words of Schiaffino it was “a kind of Latin American version of von Clausewitz, a wake-up call to the nation’s inquiring minds.” It soon became obligatory reading among the hard-line members of Castiglione’s old gang.

In 1971 Schiaffino visited the widow Mendiluce [the doyenne of Argentine fascist poetry, with whom Bolaño begins the book], but there are no graphic or written records of their meeting. In 1972 he published The Path to Glory, a series of forty-five poems, each one examining the life of a different Boca Juniors player. Like Cower, Hounds! the book included an obliging preface by Doctor Pérez Heredia and a nihil obstat issued by the vice president of the sporting club. The publication was financed by the members of Schiaffino’s gang, who paid a subscription, and the remaining copies were sold in the vicinity of Boca’s Bombonera stadium on match days. This time the sports journalists paid him some attention: Two magazines deemed The Path to Glory worthy of a review, and when Doctor Pestalozzi’s radio program, 100% Soccer, organized a round table on the critical state of the national game, Schiaffino was invited to participate. On the radio, in the company of well-known sports personalities, he was restrained.

In 1975 he delivered his next collection of poetry to the printer. Entitled Like Wild Bulls, it has a gaucho-like tone, which can reasonably be attributed to the influence of Hernández, Güiraldes, and Carriego. In it, Schiaffino recounts, sometimes in great detail, how he led the gang on excursions to various places in the province of Buenos Aires, as well as on two trips to Córdoba and Rosario, which resulted in victories for the visiting team, hoarse supporters, and sundry skirmishes, none of which degenerated into street battles, although a number of lessons were administered to isolated elements of the “enemy forces.” In spite of its eminently bellicose tone, Like Wild Bulls is Schiaffino’s most successful work. Exhibiting a degree of freedom and spontaneity unmatched elsewhere in his writing, it gives the reader a clear sense of the young poet’s character and his bond with “the virginal spaces of the fatherland.”

In 1975, after the fusion of his gang with those of Honesto García and Juan Carlos Lentini, Schiaffino launched the triennial magazine With Boca, which thenceforth was to serve as a mouthpiece for the expression and diffusion of his ideas. In the first number of 1976, he published “Jews Out”: Out of the football stadiums, naturally, not out of Argentina, but the essay was widely misunderstood and earned him many enemies. As did “Memoirs of a Malcontent Fan,” published in the third number of 1976, in which Schiaffino, pretending to be a River Plate fan, pokes fun at the players and supporters of Boca’s traditional rival. Parts II, III, and IV of the “Memoirs” followed in the first and third numbers of 1977 and the first number of 1978. Unanimously acclaimed by the readers of With Boca, they were quoted by Colonel (retired) Persio de la Fuente in an article on the idiom of the Latin American picaresque in the University of Buenos Aires Semiotics Review.

1978 was Schiaffino’s year of glory. Argentina won the World Cup for the first time and the gang celebrated in the streets, which were transformed for the occasion into a vast parade ground. It was the year of “A Toast to the Boys,” an excessive, allegorical poem, in which Schiaffino imagines a country setting forth to meet its destiny, united like one huge soccer gang. It was also the year in which “respectable,” “adult” avenues opened up for him: His poem was widely reviewed, and not only in specialist sporting publications. A Buenos Aires radio station offered him a job as a commentator; a newspaper with close links to the government offered him a weekly column on youth issues. Schiaffino accepted all the offers, but before long his impetuous pen had alienated everyone. At the radio station and the newspaper it soon became clear that leading the Boca boys was more important to Schiaffino than being on any payroll. Broken ribs and windows resulted from the conflict, and the first in a long series of prison terms.

Without the support of his benefactors, Schiaffino’s lyric inspiration seems to have dried up. From 1978 to 1982, he devoted himself almost exclusively to the gang and to bringing out With Boca, in which he continued to rail against the ills besetting soccer and Argentina.

His authority over the fan base remained undiminished. Under his leadership the Boca gang grew in numbers and strength as never before. His prestige, albeit obscure and secret, was unrivaled: The family album still contains photos of Schiaffino with players and club officials.

He died of a heart attack in 1982, while listening to one of the last reports from the Falklands War.

The arc of Argentino Schiaffino’s life has prompted comparisons, over the years, with varied and often incompatible figures from the worlds of literature and sport. Thus, in 1978, a certain Palito Kruger, writing in the third number of With Boca, asserted that Schiaffino’s life and work were comparable to those of Rimbaud. In 1982, in a different number of the same magazine, Schiaffino was referred to as the Latin American equivalent of Dionisio Ridruejo. In the preface to his 1995 anthology Occult Poets of Argentina, Professor González Irujo put him on a par with Baldomero Fernández and with his own personal friends. Letters to Buenos Aires news­papers hailed him as the only civic figure in the same league as Maradona. And in 2015, a short death notice written by John Castellano for a newspaper in Selma, Alabama, coupled him with the tragic figure of Ringo Bonavena.

All the comparisons are justified, to a certain degree, by the ups and downs of Argentino Schiaffino’s life and work.

We know that he grew up in the shadow of his brother, who taught him to love soccer, recruited him as a Boca fan, and interested him in the mysteries of poetry. The two brothers were, however, notably different. Italo Schiaffino was tall, well built, authoritarian, unemotional, and unimaginative. He cut an imposing figure: wiry, angular, with a slightly cadaverous air, although from the age of twenty-eight, perhaps because of a hormonal imbalance, he began to grow dangerously fat, eventually reaching a fatal degree of obesity. Argentino Schiaffino was on the shorter side of average, plump (thence the affectionate nickname Fatso, by which he was known until the day he died), sociable, and bold by nature, charismatic though hardly authoritarian.

He began to write poetry at the age of thirteen. At sixteen, while his elder brother was making his name with The Path to Glory, he produced fifty mimeographed copies of his first book, at his own expense and risk. It was a series of thirty epigrams entitled Anthology of the Best Argentine Jokes; over one weekend he personally sold all the copies to members of the Boca gangs. In April 1973, employing the same editorial strategy, he published his story The Invasion of Chile, an exercise in black humor (some passages resemble a splatter movie script) about a hypothetical war between the two republics. In December of the same year he published the manifesto We’re Not Going to Take It, in which he attacked the league’s umpires, whom he accused of bias, lack of physical fitness, and, in some cases, drug use.

He began the year 1974 by publishing the collection Iron Youth (fifty mimeographed copies): dense, militaristic poems with march-like rhythms, which, if nothing else, obliged Schiaffino to venture beyond the bounds of his natural thematic domains: soccer and humor. He followed up with a play, The Presidential Summit, or What Can We Do to Turn This Around? In this five-act farce, heads of state and diplomats from various Latin American nations meet in a hotel room somewhere in Germany to discuss options for restoring the natural and traditional supremacy of Latin American soccer, which is under threat from the European total-football approach. The play, which is extremely long, recalls a certain strain of avant-garde theatre, from Adamov, Genet, and Grotowski to Copi and Savary, although it is unlikely (though not impossible) that Fatso ever set foot in the sort of establishment given to the production of such plays. The following are only a few of the scenes: (1) A monologue about the etymologies of the words peace and art delivered by the Venezuelan cultural attaché. (2) The rape of the Nicaraguan ambassador in one of the hotel bathrooms by the presidents of Nicaragua, Colombia, and Haiti. (3) A tango danced by the presidents of Argentina and Chile. (4) The Uruguayan ambassador’s peculiar interpretation of the prophecies of Nostradamus. (5) A masturbation contest organized by the presidents, with three categories: thickness (won by the Ecuadoran ambassador); length (won by the Brazilian ambassador); and, most important, distance covered by semen (won by the Argentine ambassador). (6) The president of Costa Rica’s subsequent irritation and condemnation of such contests as “scatology in the poorest taste.” (7) The arrival of the German whores. (8) All-out brawling, chaos, and exhaustion. (9) The arrival of the dawn, a “pink dawn that intensifies the fatigue of the bigwigs who finally come to understand their defeat.” (10) The president of Argentina’s solitary breakfast (having let off a series of resounding farts, he climbs into bed and falls asleep).

In the same year, 1974, Argentino Schiaffino managed to publish two more works. A short manifesto in With Boca, entitled “Satisfactory Solutions,” which is, in a sense, a sequel to The Presidential Summit (Latin America should respond to total football, he suggests, by physically eliminating its finest exponents, that is to say, assassinating Cruyff, Beckenbauer, etc.). And a new collection of poems (a hundred mimeographed copies), Spectacle in the Sky, a series of short, light—one might almost say winged—poems about the stars of Boca Juniors down through the years, not unlike Italo Schiaffino’s famous book The Path to Glory. The theme is the same, the technique is similar, some metaphors are identical, yet where the elder brother’s work is ruled by rigor and the determination to record a history of striving, the younger brother yields to the pleasure of discovering images and rhymes, treats the old legends humorously but not without affection, applies a light touch where Italo was grave, and mounts a powerful and occasionally opulent verbal display. This book probably contains the best of Argentino Schiaffino’s work.

Some years of literary silence followed. In 1975 he got married and started working in an auto repair shop. After which he is said to have hitchhiked to Patagonia, read everything he could lay his hands on, submerged himself in the study of Latin American history, and experimented with psychotropic drugs, but what we know for certain is that he was there with his brother’s gang every week, whether the game was at home or away, cheering with the best of them. During this period he is also said to have participated in the activities of Captain Antonio Lacouture’s death squad, driving and repairing a small fleet of cars kept at a villa on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, but of this there is no proof.

Scoreboard announcing Argentina’s win in the World Cup, Buenos Aires, 1978.
Scoreboard announcing Argentina’s win in the World Cup, Buenos Aires, 1978.

During the 1978 World Cup, which was hosted by Argentina, Fatso resurfaced with a long poem entitled Champions (one thousand mimeographed copies, which he sold himself at the stadium’s entrances and exits): a rather difficult and occasionally muddled text, which jumps abruptly from free verse to alexandrines, to distichs, to rhyming couplets, and sometimes even to catalectics (when exploring the ins and outs of the Argentine selection it adopts the tone of Lorca’s Romancero gitano, and when examining the rival teams it veers between the devious advice of old Vizcacha in Martin Fierro and Manrique’s straightforward predictions in the “Coplas”). The book sold out in two weeks.

Then there was another long period of literary silence. In 1982, as he was to reveal in his autobiography, he tried to enlist as a volunteer to fight the British in the Falklands. He was unsuccessful. Shortly afterward, he traveled to Spain for the World Cup with a group of die-hard fans. After the defeat of the Argentine team by Italy, he was arrested in a Barcelona hotel, on charges of assault, attempted homicide, robbery, and disorderly conduct. He spent three months in Barcelona’s Model Prison along with five other Argentine soccer fans, before being released for want of evidence. On his return, the Boca gang hailed him as their new leader, but uninspired by this promotion he generously delegated the role to Doctor Morazán and the quantity surveyor Scotti Cabello. Nevertheless, his moral authority over the followers of his late brother would remain undiminished to the end of his life, a life that for many of the younger fans had begun to take on an aura of legend.

With Boca folded in 1983, despite the best efforts of Doctor Morazán, thus depriving Fatso of his sole means of public expression; the deprivation, however, would prove beneficial in the long term. In 1984 a small politico-literary publisher, Black & White, brought out a volume entitled Impenitent Memoirs, Schiaffino’s first venture beyond the realm of self-publication, which was greeted with indifference by the literary milieu. It is a small volume of stories in a decidedly naturalistic mode. In less than four pages, the longest story evokes mornings and evenings spent playing soccer in a working-class neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The characters are four children who call themselves the Four Gauchos of the Apocalypse, and a number of hagiographers have taken their experiences to reflect the childhood of the Schiaffino brothers. The shortest story occupies less than half a page: Jocular in tone and larded with Buenos Aires slang, it describes a sickness or a heart attack or perhaps simply a bout of melancholy afflicting some nameless, distant person in the course of an ordinary afternoon.

In 1985, the collection of stories Crazy Blunders appeared under the same imprint. At only fifty-six pages, it was even slimmer than its predecessor, to which, at first glance, it appeared to be an epilogue. This book did, however, attract some critical attention. One review summarily dispatched it as cretinous. One tore it to shreds, but without impugning Schiaffino’s feel for language. Two other reviewers (there were only four in all) were forthright and more or less enthusiastic in their praise.

Black & White went bankrupt soon afterward, and Schiaffino seems to have lapsed not only into silence, as on previous occasions, but also into anonymity. It was suggested that his disappearance could be explained by the fact that he owned half or at least a significant proportion of the shares in Black & White. How Schiaffino got hold of enough money to have a substantial stake in a publishing company remains a mystery. There was some talk of funds obtained during the dictatorship, wealth stolen and secreted, undisclosed sources of income, but nothing could be proved.

In 1987 Argentino Schiaffino reappeared at the helm of the Boca gang. He had separated from his wife and was working as a waiter in a downtown restaurant on Corrientes, where his proverbial good humor soon made him one of the neighborhood’s favorite characters. At the end of the year he published three stories, none of which exceeded seven pages, in a mimeo­graphed collection entitled The Great Buenos Aires Restaurant Novel, which he sold without compunction to his clients. The first story is about a Lebanese who arrives in Buenos Aires and looks for a solid business in which to invest his savings. He falls in love with an Argentine woman who works as a butcher, and together they decide to open a restaurant specializing in meat of all kinds. Everything goes well until the Lebanese man’s poor relatives start turning up. In the end the butcher solves all the problems by liquidating the relatives one by one, with the help of her kitchen hand and lover, nicknamed Monkey. The story ends with an apparently bucolic scene: The butcher, her husband, and Monkey set off to spend a day in the country and prepare a barbecue under the wide-open skies of the fatherland. The second story is about an old magnate in the Buenos Aires restaurant business who wants to find his last love, and with that objective scours nightclubs, brothels, the houses of friends with grown-up daughters, etc. He finally discovers the woman of his dreams in his first restaurant: a twenty-year-old tango singer, blind since birth. The third story is about a group of friends dining in a restaurant that belongs to one of them and has been closed to the public for the evening. At first the occasion seems to be a stag night, then a celebration of something one of the friends has achieved, then a wake, then a gastronomic gathering with no other purpose than to enjoy good Argentine cooking, and finally a trap set for a traitor by all or almost all the others, although, beyond vague mentions of trust, eternal friendship, loyalty, and honor, we never learn what the supposed traitor has betrayed. The story is ambiguous and based entirely on the conversation of the diners at the table, whose number declines as the evening wears on, while their words become increasingly pompous and cruel or, on the contrary, clipped, laconic, and sharp. Regrettably, the story comes to a predictable, not to say gratuitously violent end: The traitor is hacked to pieces in the bathroom of the restaurant.

1987 was also the year in which Schiaffino’s long poem Solitude (640 lines) was published at the expense of Doctor Morazán, who penned a preface illustrated by his niece Miss Bertha Macchio Morazán with four india-ink drawings. Solitude is an odd, desperate, turbulent text, which casts some light on obscure stretches of its author’s biography. The events take place during the 1986 World Cup, both in the host nation, Mexico, and in Argentina. Schiaffino, who is the poem’s unrivaled protagonist, reflects on the “solitude of the champions” in a seedy, out-of-the-way hotel in Buenos Aires, which sometimes seems to be an abandoned ranch far out on the vast pampas. Then we see him flying to Mexico with Aerolineas Argentinas, accompanied by “two black guards,” members of his gang, perhaps, or threatening figures. His time in Mexico is largely divided between bars of the most disreputable variety, where he is able to verify in situ the devastating effects of miscegenation (although he generally gets on well with “Mexi­can drunks,” who see in him a “snail prince, master of a ruined tower”), and the provincial boardinghouses where he finds lodging as he follows the movements of the boys in blue and white. The final victory of the Argentine team is an apotheosis: Schiaffino sees an enormous light, like a flying saucer, hovering over the Aztec stadium, and transparent figures emerging from the light, accompanied by little dogs with human faces and flaming fur, restrained with metallic leashes by the transparent beings. He also sees a finger, “roughly thirty yards long,” perhaps ominously pointing the way, perhaps simply pointing at a cloud in the vast sky. The party continues in the “flood-locked” streets of the Mexican capital, and ends with an exhausted Fatso returning to the solitude of his boardinghouse room and passing out.

In 1988, having adopted photocopying, he published a story entitled The Ostrich in an edition of fifty booklets. It is, at least in principle, an homage to the soldiers of the military coup, yet in spite of the Schiaffino’s evident admiration for order, the family, and the fatherland, he was unable to refrain from sallies of caustic, cruel, scatologically humorous, intemperate, caricatural, parodic, irreverent outbursts—the Schiaffino trademark, in short. The following year The Best of Argentino Schiaffino appeared, without a publisher’s imprint or date: a selection of his poems, stories, and political writings. The cognoscenti were quick to surmise that the book had been produced by the Fourth Reich in Argentina, a mystagogically inspired venture, which kept popping up then vanishing again in Buenos Aires publishing between 1965 and 2000.

Gradually Schiaffino began to acquire something of a media profile. He took part in a television program on soccer gangs, and was the first to defend their right to violence, on grounds such as honor, self-defense, group solidarity, and the pure and simple pleasure of street fighting. Invited as a defendant, he assumed the role of prosecutor. He participated in radio and television debates on all sorts of subjects: fiscal policy, the decadence of the young Latin American democracies, the future of the tango on the European music scene, the state of opera in Buenos Aires, the exorbitant prices of fashion garments, public education in the provinces, widespread ignorance about the nation’s extent and borders, Argentine wine, the privatization of the country’s leading industries, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, tennis and chess, the work of Borges, Bioy Casares, Cortázar, and Mujica Laínez (about whose work he made bold pronouncements, although he swore he had never read it), the life of Roberto Arlt (for whom he professed his admiration, although the novelist had “belonged to the enemy camp”), border incidents, how to end unemployment, white-collar crime and street crime, the inventiveness of the Argentines, the sawmills of the Andes, and the works of Shakespeare.

He attended the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where he was among a group of thirty Argentine fans classified as potentially dangerous aliens. Prior to the trip he had expressed a wish to meet with the British hooligans in a reconciliation ceremony consisting of a mass for the casualties of the Falklands War, followed by a barbecue. Although it was never anything more than a wish, the news spread around the world, and by the time he returned to Argentina, Schiaffino’s renown had increased considerably.

In 1991 he brought out two books: Chimichurri Sauce (self-published, forty pages, one hundred copies), an unfortunate imitation of Lugones and Darío, lapsing occasionally into pure plagiarism, which left all but a few readers wondering why he had written and, having written, published it; and The Iron Boat (La Castaña, fifty pages, five hundred copies), a series of thirty prose poems, whose central theme is the phenomenon of friendship between men. The book’s trite message, that friendship is forged in danger, seems in retrospect to foreshadow the life that Fatso was to lead in the coming years. In 1992, commanding a substantial group recruited from his gang, he orchestrated the ambush of a bus carrying River Plate supporters on a public highway, resulting in two deaths from gunshots and numerous wounded. A warrant for his arrest was issued; Argentino Schiaffino disappeared. In phone calls to various radio stations he vigorously declared his innocence, although he did not condemn the ambush of the River supporters—on the contrary—and several witnesses, including more than one ex-member of Schiaffino’s gang, said they had seen him near the scene of the crime. In the media he was soon identified as the mastermind and instigator of the incident. Here begins the shadowy phase of his life, particularly propitious to all kinds of speculation and mystification.

While on the run, he is known to have attended soccer matches: Photos he set up himself showed him rooting for the team like any other fan. The gang, the inner circle of the gang, those who had stood by the Schiaffino boys from the start, protected him with a fanatic devotion. His life on the run inspired awe among the youngsters. A few read his works; some imitated him and tried to follow his literary lead, but Fatso was inimitable.

In 1994, when the World Cup was being played in the United States, Fatso gave an interview to a Buenos Aires sporting magazine. Where was he? In Boston. A major scandal broke out. The Argentine journalists became suspicious after being subjected to special security measures—slights, so they felt, to their professional dignity—and made fun of the North American police procedures. The other Latin American journalists, plus a few from Spain, Italy, and Portugal, echoed their mockery. The story, just one of the many generated by the event, was repeated around the world. The Boston police and the FBI swung into action, but Schiaffino had disappeared.

For a long time, his whereabouts were entirely unknown. The gang even publicly admitted to being in the dark, until Scotti Cabello, who was in prison, received a long poem entitled Terra autem erat inanis” in a letter from Fatso, postmarked Orlando, Florida. The epistle, which Doctor Morazán hastened to publish, obliging the Boca fans to pay a subscription, begins with a comparison, in rhythmic free verse, of the open spaces of North America and those of Argentina, at opposite extremes of the continent, continues with detailed reminiscences of the prisons that “the author and his friends” have come to know through their “enthusiasm and innocence,” a clear allusion to the two-year sentence that Scotti Cabello was serving at the time, and ends in a chaotic blend of threats, idyllic visions of a childhood paradise regained (Mama, the smell of fresh pasta, brothers laughing around the table, playing soccer in vacant lots with a plastic ball until nightfall), and irreverent, off-color jokes, a characteristic trait of Schiaffino’s late manner.

There was no further news of him until 1999. The gang observed an absolute and perhaps ingenuous silence. In spite of Doctor Morazán’s insinuations, deliberately enigmatic utterances, and ambiguities, it is probably the case that no one in Argentina had any idea what had become of Fatso. It was all speculation. Even so, in 1998 the die-hard fans set off for the World Cup in France convinced that they would find him cheering on the boys in blue and white, as always. But they were entirely mistaken. Fatso had turned away from the first of his great loves and devoted himself to the second: He read everything he could lay his hands on, especially history books, crime novels, and best sellers, learned English to a rudimentary level (which he would never surpass), and married a North American, Maria Teresa Greco, from New Jersey, twenty years his senior, thereby obtaining US citizenship. He was living in Beresford, a small town in southern Florida, working as chief bartender in a restaurant owned by a Cuban, and unhurriedly concocting what was to be his first novel, a five-hundred-page thriller set in various countries over several years. His habits had changed. He had become orderly, and was leading an almost monklike existence.

In 1999, as mentioned above, he reemerged. Scotti Cabello, who was out of prison and had more or less withdrawn from the turbulent world of the soccer gangs, received not a letter but a telephone call from Fatso. He was flabbergasted. Fatso’s voice, sounding just the same as ever, reeled off plans, projects, and strategies for revenge, with the undiminished enthusiasm of his early years, giving Scotti the disturbing impression that, for his old hero, time had stopped. Fatso didn’t seem perturbed by the news that he was no longer the leader of the Boca gang. He had instructions and hoped that Scotti would carry them out. First, let the boys know that he was alive; second, trumpet the news that he was coming home; third, start looking for someone to publish his great North American novel in Spanish . . .

Scotti Cabello loyally satisfied the first two demands, but could find no takers in Argentina for Fatso’s literary opus. In the end it was Schiaffino who failed to fulfill his promise: After raising hopes of his return—if only among a few followers—he lapsed once again into sullen silence.

During the 2002 World Cup in Japan, a few Argentine supporters scanning the Osaka stadium with binoculars thought they saw him in a side row, near the south end. They made their way toward the spot, uncertain and excited, but when they got there, he had gone. Three years later the Bucaneros publishing house in Tampa brought out his Memoirs of an Argentine (350 pages), a book full of gangsters, car chases, gorgeous women, unsolved murders, bars where private eyes meet with honest cops, adventures in the ghetto, corrupt politicians, movie stars receiving threats, voodoo rituals, industrial espionage, etc. The book was relatively successful, at least among the Hispanic community in the south of the United States.

By then Schiaffino had been widowed and married again. According to some sources, he had links with the Ku Klux Klan, the American Christian movement, and the Rebirth of America group. But in fact he was dividing his time between business and literature. He owned two charcoal-grill restaurants in the Miami area, and was immersed in the elaboration of a major work in progress, which he kept strictly under wraps.

In 2007 he self-published a book of prose poems, The Horsemen of Repentance, in which he relates, although in a muddled or deliberately hermetic manner, some of his adventures in North America, from his arrival as a wanted man up to the moment when he met Elisabeth Moreno, his third wife, to whom the book is dedicated.

Finally, in 2010, the long-promised, long-awaited novel appeared. Its title was laconic and suggestive: The Treasure. The plot is a thin disguise for a memoir in which Argentino Schiaffino discusses and analyzes his life, taking it apart, weighing good and bad, seeking and finding justifications. In the course of the book’s 535 pages, the reader is made privy to undisclosed aspects of the author’s existence, some of which are genuinely surprising, although as a rule Schiaffino’s revelations are restricted to the domestic sphere: We learn, for example, that since they were unable to have children of their own, he and Elisabeth adopted a six-year-old Irish boy called Tommy and a four-year-old Mexican girl called Cynthia, whom they renamed Cynthia-Elisabeth, in accordance with Fatso’s wish, etc. Schiaffino makes his political position clear. From his own point of view, at least. He is neither on the right nor on the left. He has black friends and friends in the Ku Klux Klan (among the photos in the book, one shows a barbecue in a backyard; all the guests are wearing Klan hoods and gowns, except for Schiaffino, who is in chef’s garb, using a spare white hood to wipe the sweat from his neck). He is against monopolies, especially cultural monopolies. He believes in the family, but also in a man’s “natural right to a bit of fun on the side.” He trusts in the United States, of which he has become a citizen, while drawing up a long and trivial list of things that ought to be improved.

The chapters devoted to his life in Argentina, and especially to his leading role in the soccer gangs, are sketchy compared to those about his experiences in North America. The book contains historical inaccuracies, which may, however, be deranged metaphors for truths of another kind. For example, he says that he took part in the Falklands War as a private, was awarded the San Martín medal for his bravery in various engagements, and was promoted to sergeant. His description of the Battle of Goose Green is full of blackly humorous details but is not always believable from a strictly military point of view. He says almost nothing of his long career at the head of the Boca fans. He does, however, complain that in Argentina his books were never given much attention. On the other hand, his life in the United States, both real and imaginary, is recounted with zest and in minute detail. Many chapters of the book are devoted to women, among whom a place of honor is reserved for his second wife, the “beloved and sorely missed companion” who opened the doors of “her personal library” to him. As to sports, he is interested only in boxing, and the characters who haunt the boxing world provide him with a wealth of material: Italians, Cubans, melancholic old black men, friends and tireless storytellers one and all.

After the publication of The Treasure, Schiaffino seemed to have settled down for good. But it was not to be. Bad management or bad friends bankrupted him. He lost his two restaurants. Divorce was not long in coming. In 2013 he left Florida and moved to New Orleans, where he worked as the manager of a restaurant called El Chacarero Argentino. At the end of that year, he self-published his last book of poems: A Story Heard in the Delta, a collection of melancholic but nonetheless outrageous jokes, in the vein of the best verse from his Boca period. In 2015 he left New Orleans for reasons that have not been ascertained, and a few months later an unidentified individual or individuals killed him in the backyard of a gambling den in Detroit.

Excerpt from Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas (copyright © 1996 by Roberto Bolaño; copyright © 2008 by the heirs of Roberto Bolaño; translation copyright © 2008 by Chris Andrews) is printed here by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation: all rights reserved