Divinsky el memorioso. A talk with Daniel Divinsky. Founder, literary manager and managing partner of Argentinean imprint Ediciones de la Flor since 1966 to 2015
He is as small as the little Borges book, and also everywhere. One can get used to hearing the ubiquitous name of Daniel Divinsky when you are a student for a Publishing degree at the Buenos Aires University. One week, I´ll never forget, I ran into his name four times, and each time in a different media. First, mentioned in the classroom; then, in CNN in Spanish; next, quoted in a book by the sport journalist Rodolfo Braceli. And the fourth time, I saw him walking down the sidewalk through the window of the bus. “I see you almost in my soup”, I wrote to him afterwards. To which he answered: “So les't have soup then.”
During the soup – which was really a coffee- he suggested to me, since I was about to go to Europe, that I should go to the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair in October. And just like that, I changed the course of my journey. “But how can I make the most of this trip”? I thought. “How am I going to talk to publishers? I´m just a silly student! I need to find a backup plan.” For that reason, my Borges is Everywhere venture began. And how did I come across someone as memorable as Daniel Divinsky anyways? As all of my charming anecdotes lately, they usually begin in the “Noble corner of my grandparents”: Cartagena. Daniel was invited to give a talk at the Hay Festival Cartagena in 2014 entitled 50 Years of Mafalda (50 años de Mafalda) with Felipe Ossa (the everlasting bookseller of La Librería Nacional and the first to import Mafalda into Colombia), and moderated by the Colombian journalist and close friend, Daniel Samper Pizano.
Divinsky opened the conversation with a one minute story about October 17 of 1945, Loyalty Day, when a well-remembered demonstration at Plaza de Mayo demanded the liberation of Juan Domingo Perón. Instead, out came an Admiral who said: "I´m not Perón”. Well, also said Divinsky: “I´m not Quino.” In addition to his prodigious memory, he has a great abstractive narrative nature. I call it: one-minute climax stories. The average duration for any answer is one minute which always closes unexpectedly with a culminating sentence in a time that an interviewer, such as myself, could not have anticipated.
As for what united Divinsky with Felipe Ossa forty years ago, Daniel Samper humorously compared it, in terms of commercial ties, to delinquency. Mafalda reached the Colombian readers through the northern port of Barranquilla where, apparently, import requirements were different. By coming in through Barranquilla, Mafalda was able to avoid the extremely high import taxes imposed in Bogotá. In those days, the Colombian laws about the importation of books didn’t consider graphic novels, or comic books, to be part of "Cultural Industry"; therefore, they weren’t classified under books. This law (La Ley del Fomento del Libro) lasted fifty years until 2012. And now, forty years after importing Mafalda into Colombia, Felipe and Daniel can confess their sins because the time specified in the statute of limitations for this offense has already expired.
There is so much more to tell about a series of events that led to our coffee that evening when we talked about the Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time. “Any future publisher should go there at least once in their career,” he replied when I told him that I was going. In his new radio program "The Books Speak" (Los Libros hablan, Radio UBA FM 87.9), he dedicated an edition to Book Fairs and their different types. "Some are to negotiate translation rights rather than only selling books," he explained during his program. Frankfurt falls into the first category, and quite a very important one. I recommend to all Spanish speaking readers, and aspiring publishers, to follow his radio program every Monday at noon, because maybe for us students lo que natura non da this space might add.
I witnessed the interview of two special guests, Juan Carlos Kreimer and Mónica Herrero. (UBA Radio Station, 87.9)
In our last meeting -here in my Buenos Aires home-, apart from joining the Borges is Everywhere (PR) books participant catalog, he shared with me memories of his Radio Days. During his exile in Venezuela in the late seventies, he started to write for Jaime Suárez, the announcer of the only cultural radio station then who had a beautiful voice. After returning to Argentina he was given the position of director at Radio Belgrano which he managed to fulfill while Kuki Miller was in charge of Ediciones de la Flor; the publishing house he co-founded with her: “It is one thing to have a radio show and another to run a whole radio station with ninety employees and so.” His radio days as a Director were quite exciting and unusual. What happened inside the radio was a sign of what was still going on outside. Believe it or not, things that were said after the dictatorship still bothered many groups. Radio Belgrano received numerous threats and was even bombed once. Daniel also mentioned the story of a takeover attempt as the initiative of a single former Marine captain; and a hilarious anecdote about a public figure who went on a hunger strike that lasted between breakfast and lunch. “…and because no one paid attention to him, he got bored and left,” he remembered.
I asked him what literary criteria he uses to judge if a comic book is any good. But he doesn’t give formulas, and he shouldn’t. Maybe there aren't any. “It is taste, my dear, just taste,” he keeps saying. He used as a reference “Critique of Taste” by the Italian philosopher, Galvano Della Volpe to answer the question: “The only valid criterion for the evaluation of a cultural product is taste.” But how do I know if others, I mean the readers, would have my same taste and interest? I thought. Therefore, it always comes back to the subject of making taste happen. Generate new desires by exhibition. “A publisher is a kind of exhibitionist,” he always recalls “someone who learns about something and wants to shout it out to the world. A good publisher is a tattletale.” So first comes taste, an eye for a good story, and then comes gossip, spreading the word. (Somebody must have mentioned abroad about Borges´magnificent short stories and now he´s everywhere.) Divinsky is known for spreading the word of Quino, Roberto Fontanarrosa, Rodolfo Walsh, John Berger, Umberto Eco among so many others. Some even call him Mafalda's godfather (el padrino de Mafalda). “But the literary merit is not enough, he says, nor the interest on the subject, you must know how to sell it at the right moment and at the right time.”