The Voyage Out Book Group’s Reader’s Guide to Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
The Literature of Latin America
Other Books From Region:
Roberto Bolano’s By Night in Chile
Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat
Julio Cortazar lived from 1914-1984. Known most for his fantastical short stories, Cortazar’s Hopscotch will also live on as one of the more challenging texts of the 20th century.
Born in Brussels to Argentinian parents, Cortazar’s family moved back to Argentina when he was around four years old. His childhood was spent in a suburb of Buenos Aires. He studied at a teacher’s training college, and went on to teach, briefly, on the secondary level.
A radical by nature, Cortazar became involved in many of the political movements of his time. A dedicated anti-Peronist, he also supported the Cuban revolution, Allende’s government, and the Sandanista’s of Nicaragua. His anti-Peronist stances also caused him to be imprisoned briefly in the mid 1940’s.
After being released from prison and leaving his teaching position, Cortazar began life as a publisher, and as a published author.
In 1951 he left Buenos Aires for Paris. The move was urged on by his Anti-Peron stance, and it was many years before he was able to spend time in Argentina.
He began to translate and publish widely. His translations included works by Daniel Defoe and Edgar Allen Poe. His published works were a combination of high literary fiction and fantasy.
Through his life, Cortazar travelled widely and continued to be involved in human right’s issues. In 1983, after a ban on him was lifted, he was able to visit Argentina again.
Cortazar died in 1984 of leukemia.
Questions/ Tangents/ Topics:
1) Based on the ‘Table of Instructions’, how did you read this book? What is the effect each reading path had on the reading experience? What was missed with each type of reading?
2) How are the ‘expendable’ chapters interacting with the beginning two sections?
3) How is this book different if read on an e-reader?
4) The characters in the novel talk to each other a lot. Subjects include, but are not limited to, Philosophy, Jazz, love, literature, and travel. These talks are either brilliant or pretentious, or both. Are we to take these discussions seriously? Or, how much of what Cortazar is showing us is satire?
5) When the setting changes from France to Argentina, does the style or tone change as well? What are the topics of discussion? How does Horacio interact in Argentina as opposed to France?
6) How does structure guide plot?
7) The book never settles on one type of language, does this imply a love of language in all of its forms, or a distrust of language to show the variety of experience?
What We Talked About When We Talked About This Book:
- Sometimes you fight the book and the book wins. We had a mixed bag of people who finished the book, people who got pretty close, and those who threw their hands in the air very early. We talked about why this is, the nature of difficult texts, and how to have complete discussions without complete understanding.
- Depending on how you read the book, you miss certain things. Example: if you read the ‘table of instructions’, then start on chapter 73, you would not have a time where reading the epigraphs was prescribed. Many of us missed the epigraphs. We also missed the transitions from book to book. In a heavily structured narrative like this, what does it mean to miss these structural elements?
- When most book groups meet, characters are king. We like to talk about whether a character is full or flat. To say a character is flat is a damning statement. Cortazar, however, draws some incredibly flat characters in this novel, but he is forgiven. We talked about trying to come to a novel on its own terms. We tried to read it not as the novel we would prefer, but as the novel we were given.
- After talking in vague terms about this difficult to grasp novel, we decided to get specific. I asked members to read some of their favorite passages from the back chapters. This illuminated that section for those who chose to read the book in a linear fashion, and allowed us to really dive into some of the text.