Juan José Delaney
a day without a line
"This is good work. The stories are interesting from the beginning
to the end. I congratulate the boy. He has the obligation to continue."
Jorge Luis Borges
By Michael J.
For the Buenos Aires Herald
(November 21, 1999)
only want to be a writer," said nineteen year old Juan José Delaney in
an interview in the well-known magazine Gente, in September 1974.
"Apart from literature," continued the lightly built, blue-eyed
Argentine of Irish descent, "my only interest is music," a
surprising statement surely from a young man in a land in love with its
soccer, its food, its fantasies and its females.
was born into a large Irish-Argentine family, a descendant of Irish
immigrants who came to Argentina in the second half of the last century and
settled out on the rich farmlands of the Buenos Aires province until they
came into the city to work. They brought up their seven children speaking
English and Spanish and to learn what was right, live what they learned and
José recalls. "l can't remember my father or my mother ever forcing us
into a career, but I do remember my father often telling us to do whatever
we wanted to do, and to do it well." The children took their parents to
heart, and went into law, psychology, history, literature and advertising.
I was at secondary school," Delaney said, "I started to read Oscar
Wilde, and while I enjoyed him very much," he lowered his voice and
confided: "I felt I could write the way he wrote. Then I got into Jorge
Luis Borges who not only moved me deeply, but also convinced me that I could
do the same, and that I was going to be a writer."
in his teens he started writing his first collection of short stories which
were published before his twentieth birthday as La carcajada, which
was why the magazine -a market leader because of its uncanny ability to
titillate its public by changing constantly and only portraying the very
famous, or the extraordinarily exceptional- gave the adolescent writer four
full pages in the latter category.
Luis Borges said after La carcajada
had been read to him: "This is good work. The stories are
interesting from the beginning to the end. I congratulate the boy. He has
the obligation to continue." When Delaney heard this he was walking on
air. It was high praise indeed, especially since it is well-known Borges
-nobody's mouthpiece- did not suffer fools lightly, and never said or wrote
a word which he felt was not absolutely necessary.
Delaney's most treasured possessions is a signed, first edition of a Borges
book, El Libro de Arena. I asked him -there is quite a market for
signed first editions of famous authors- if he would sell it?
"Nooo," was the unequivocal answer. Money simply does not motivate
the normal course of events nothing more would ever have been heard about
young Juan José Delaney. After all one book does not make a writer, nor
does one swallow make a summer. Many are called, but few are chosen. William
Butler Yeats had told the young James Joyce: "the qualities that make a
man succeed are qualities of character: faith, patience, adaptability, and a
gift for growing by experience."
had all of these qualities and the die was cast. He studied literature at
university and picked up the tools and rules of the writer's trade. He
started working, first in an office, then he got into school teaching, and
began contributing articles to newspapers: Ámbito Financiero, La
Prensa, La Nación, Buenos Aires Herald, and the Irish-Argentine
monthly, The Southern Cross, which -under the
late Fr. Federico Richards, the human rights activist- was his first
famous line: "never a day without a line" is Delaney's motto. He
gets up early in the morning, and before going to work -director of English
at a well-known secondary school- he writes in the silence of a small study
whose walls are lined with shelves of books and pictures of his favourite
writers. Sunday is reserved for his family, his wife, Clara, and Virginia,
his six-year-old daughter.
has published three more collections of short stories since 1974: Los
Pasos del Tiempo, in 1978, Papeles
in 1991, and Tréboles
in 1994. He draws delicate vignettes of the tragedy and the comedy of
Irish-Argentina, its first immigrants and their descendants. His fifth book
and first novel, Moira
has just been published by Corregidor.
Sullivan was an Irish-American scriptwriter for the silent screen until she
was silenced forever in 1927 with the introduction of sound into motion
pictures. She then married an Irish-American executive, who was posted to
Buenos Aires, where he died still a young man.
she was isolated culturally, linguistically and existentially from her
roots, she never went back to the United States, and she finally died in St.
Patrick's Home in Villa Elisa, near La Plata. Delaney portrays her life
by intertwining her present into her past in a series of flashbacks which to
her become clearer and nearer the darker and the farther away they get.
tragic runs all through Delaney's prose as he describes poignantly the pain,
the loss, and the frustration of immigration. Nevertheless his real concern
transcends immigration and delves into the inner human conflict that arises
out of the duality of human nature between what one is and what one wants
to, or should be. His people live temporarily in a world to which they do
not belong. Life can be either meaningful or meaningless, but it can never
have any rational explanation.
1994 Delaney returned to del Salvador University where he holds the chair in
20th Century Latin American Literature. In 1993 he traveled to the United
States on a Fundación Antorchas scholarship to participate in the
International Writing Programme of the University of Iowa. In 1997 he
lectured on "The Language and Literature of the Irish in
Argentina" at the Institute of Latin American Studies in the University
of London. He founded and directs El Gato Negro, a magazine which
specializes in thrillers: crime, police and mystery.
year Delaney published an essay in the magazine, Todo es Historia,
about Jack the Ripper who apparently died here in the British Hospital after
he had fled to Buenos Aires from London. He became the owner of a once
well-known watering hole, Sally's Bar, which was popular among
Anglo-Argentines. Delaney's best work is still to be done and a lot more
will he heard about him, probably the only novice writer Borges ever