The Scent of Buenos Aires


Translated from by

Published: 10/15/19



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Book Description

Hebe Uhart’s stories sneak up on you. Refreshingly approachable, they are punctuated by street talk and saturated with a cryptic wit that recalls Lydia Davis. In The Scent of Buenos Aires, Uhart renders moments at the zoo, the hair salon, or a homeowners association meeting with delightfully eccentric insight. These stories cast an unusual, intimate light on the inner lives of plants, animals, and humans, magnifying the minute, everyday quirks of Argentina’s small towns: a cat curls around his owner to humor him, a classroom of children sway like trees when their teacher turns her back. Smiling to herself, Uhart reveals the infinite ways we show ourselves to one another.


A remarkable traveler and observer, Uhart pays close attention to the way people speak, how they move, and how they remain still. Considered to be one of the greatest contemporary Argentine writers, Uhart won the Manuel Rojas Iberian-American Award for literature in 2017. The Scent of Buenos Aires is the first collection of Uhart’s to be published in English, and Maureen Shaughnessy’s translation perfectly captures Uhart’s extraordinary world, one dappled with iridescent ivy and the small epiphanies of ordinary souls.

Seemingly naïve but tremendously sharp, Hebe Uhart’s vision is one that could belong to a child, but a child who has up her sleeve the reflective tools of an adult.
Alejandra Costamagna

It is clear to me why Uhart is so loved by many Argentine readers . . . Reading her fiction highlights the ways in which much of the discourse about Argentina and Argentine literature . . . steps over Argentines and the place itself in an effort to get somewhere else. Uhart’s quiet insistence upon seeing and hearing the people around her affirms a place and people real and worthwhile in and of themselves.
Jasmine V. Bailey, The Common

Uhart is concerned not with creating a mythology but with examining humanity, at all ages, in many social classes, jobs and towns. Short stories in translation offer insight into language: its meaning and pronunciation. [The Scent of Buenos Aires] explores means of communication as they amplify female voices and perspectives.
Emma Deshpande, The London Magazine

Immersing oneself in this collection – her first book to be translated into English, by Maureen Shaughnessy – is indeed like travelling, as we visit one character’s world and then another’s, inhabiting the revealing mundanities of each life. Little happens in terms of plot; rather, each story is an understated exercise in conjuring a whole existence through a revealing thought or gesture . . . the reader returns from her travels feeling refreshingly unbalanced.
Emily Rhodes, The Guardian

These delicate tales of everyday lives in and around Argentina’s capital reflect on the passage of time and small pleasures. Uhart’s stories, filled with peculiar but familiar characters, are like wildflowers by the side of the road — easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention, yet delicate and beautiful.

Barbara Mujica, Washington Independent Review of Books

Cultivating a sense of respect for (and kinship with) other levels of sentience, Uhart’s manner of acknowledging the interconnectedness of consciousness allows us to see Buenos Aires—any place, really—as its own organism, composed of endless living, breathing parts. Further, Uhart takes us into the internal worlds of these beings, shining light on both the typical and extraordinary ways we perceive our environment and ourselves.
Leah Scott, Asymptote

Hebe Uhart’s characters are made of an almost palpable material. They are alive, and they seem to emerge from the page to tell us, “This one here is me, that one over there could be you."

How we move, how we walk, how we keep quiet: that is what Uhart observes in each of us. But also how we pause, how we sneeze, what onomatopoeias we use, how our being is revealed through everyday gestures that at times can contradict the ideas we claim to hold. It’s through these minute observations, and her repudiation of generalities, that the writer unfurls her tentacles to construct her characters.

Alejandra Costamagna, The Paris Review

The first collection of Argentinian author Hebe Uhart’s work to be published in English features stories of daily life and strange situations with wit and humor aplenty.
Omaha Public Library's Favorite Books of 2019

There is a real precision in the rendering of language and thoughts, a sharp and careful attention to detail. Uhart brings to this a gentle humour, matched with a sympathy that seems unbounded, able to encompass the misfit and misplaced and their foibles and failings.
Danny Yee, Danny Reviews

The stories ... are acutely observed, but as if by a foreigner or a newcomer with no previous experience of what is being described; they’re told with a deceptive simplicity that draws the reader into deep labyrinths of everyday life.
Esther Allen, Words Without Borders

One of Argentina's finest and most beloved authors, Uhart has managed to escape the attention of a wider global readership for some time ... Uhart's stories are concise and filled with both dry and conversational wit and flashes of poignant insight. Uhart is a slice-of-life writer, and the breadth of those slices is almost as impressive as their deceptive depth.
Thrillist, Best Books of 2019

(Uhart's stories) steadily, unobtrusively oxygenate the world around them ... Uhart helped shape a generation of writers in Argentina as both a teacher and a writer, her influence both diffuse and impossible to ignore ... Shaughnessy has, in turn, helped us hear English as Uhart might have heard it, displaying a remarkable prowess ... It is because we can now hold these stories in our hands that her insights serve as a second set of eyes, her perspective shaping ours as we look at the world around us.
Sam Carter, Music & Literature

Uhart’s stories are written in a voice that’s frank, almost conversational, and occasionally humorous, but they land with surprising gravitas ... There’s a wonderfully off-kilter humanity to Uhart’s writing that readers are sure to respond to. This collection feels like a deserved celebration of a writer’s career.
Publishers Weekly

These stories rarely adhere to conventional plots, but as mood pieces they're effective glimpses into the peculiarities of Uhart's characters, who crave order but usually concede that the world's default mode is disarray... A welcome (if, alas, posthumous) introduction to a sui generis writer.

For Hebe Uhart, “looking” was the most authentic way of writing, as if her arrested and thoughtful gaze over characters was carried into the words that formed their stories
Edwin Madrid

Reading Hebe Uhart we laugh a lot, although we are never sure if what we’ve read is just a joke, because in her words there is also, above all, precision and wisdom...Hebe Uhart’s books are full of these small revelations, which are born of a religious attention to detail and an ear that clearly perceives the ups and downs of language.

A truly beautiful translation of one of the writers I admire the most. After reading Hebe Uhart we don’t have the impression of having closed a book: the stories and words echo the way they do when we come home after spending long hours conversing with a stranger, and discovering a new and valuable complicity.
Alejandro Zambra

Hebe approached her subjects from an astonished and oblique angle that, at first, might appear naive. Not so. Her short stories feature protagonists rarely seen in Argentine literature...Always rescuing the voices that no one pays attention to, yet not at all in a pompous way, for, if there was one thing that Hebe Uhart never wanted to do, it was to fall into the common position of giving voice to the voiceless and other slogans that she would consider idiotic.
Mariana Enriquez, (translated by Robert Croll) Página/12

Hebe is the best and the strangest. After decades of writing and publishing, Hebe became an author that dominated a central genre for the Argentine tradition: the short story. However, this has the geographic particularity of being transnational: when we think about stories in Argentina, we think about literature created in the Río de la Plata, between Argentina and Uruguay. And that was one of the strongest nuclei in Hebe’s literary identity, by which it was not a national but an inherently rioplatense literature.

Inés Acevedo, La Agenda

The greatest contemporary Argentine writer.

Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill

Hebe's texts (her fiction as well as her chronicles) played with the world in a manner that didn't fully coincide with Viktor Shklovsky’s definition of defamiliarization, that disposition of finding the strange and the unfamiliar within the quotidian. This is perhaps because the quotidian perception of Hebe Uhart in the world was, in itself, lacking automatization from the beginning, being always full of amazement, of a cultivated sense of bewilderment. That register was then translated to her texts through a writing that was ingeniously natural, with a simplicity that was only simulated.

Martín Kohan, Perfil

The Scent of Buenos Aires is concerned with the social and communal, but with a wink and a nudge toward the ridiculous habits of people. Uhart suspects, loves, and laughs at each of her characters in equal measure because she knows that, when it comes to the array of human emotion and motivation, “one person’s freedom ends where another’s begins.”
Letitia Montgomery-Rogers, Foreward Reviews

Her writing is so simple that it sometimes seems like it’s meant for children. But from simplicity to simplicity her reader penetrates into depths and labyrinths that one can only access when participating in the magic of a new world... It reveals a unique reality, or the fact that she, herself, is a unique and different reality.

Haroldo Conti

These thirty-eight short stories function like a panopticon, each dipping into one person’s purview and leaving after capturing the briefest impression. Poised somewhere between narrative and sense memory, Uhart’s lens looks into sundry lives and renders the act of surveillance both venal and holy… Shaughnessy’s translation is seamless at it transfers Uhart’s material into colloquial English, making it easy to fall into the rhythms of the characters’ lives and the coded emotions that idioms encapsulate.
Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Foreword Reviews

The world of Hebe Uhart, which so intensely appears in her stories, is abundant, collective and absolutely personal ... She has given Argentine Literature countless unforgettable, exciting characters that establish, when talking or acting, when having certain feelings over others, a way of existing, of resisting, of withstanding.

Elvio E. Gandolfo, Eterna Cadencia

Her short stories and vignettes from daily life shimmer with truth...Fans of writers from Alice Munro to William Trevor will find Uhart's work, whenever it appears in English, a delight.

Samuel Rutter, The Arkansas International

Hebe Uhart is one of Argentina's finest storytellers.

Asymptote Journal

Poised somewhere between narrative and sense memory, Uhart’s lens looks into sundry lives and renders the act of surveillance both venal and holy.

Foreword Reviews

[Uhart] is one of the most singular and exciting female voices of recent decades in Latin America. Her unique body of work and her unforgettable voice lives on in many of today’s younger generation of writers emerging on the continent.

Morning Star

Offbeat, colloquial and witty . . . [The Scent of Buenos Aires] creates magic from the mundanities of life in Argentina . . . There is something of Stevie Smith in her style, a knack for turning sophomoric ore — fairy tales, puns, encounters with animals — into literary gold . . . the economy of her writing both disguises and concentrates its psychic wallop.
Valerie L. Popp, Wasafiri

  • Read “Coordination” from The Scent of Buenos Aires in The Paris Review
  • Read this profile in Spanish by writers Mariana Enríquez and Eduardo Carrera on Hebe Uhart, her literary career, and her history in the world of letters.
  • Revisit Hebe’s words in her 2017 speech after winning the Manuel Rojas Prize.
  • Check out a translation of Guiding the Ivy by Hebe Uhart.
  • Read “Tourists and Travelers” from The Scent of Buenos Aires in LitHub