the short story project

House Taken Over

Tal Nitzán On:

House Taken Over by Julio Cortázar

Julio Cortázar, among the twentieth century’s most gifted artists of the short story, seldom wrote stories of a political context. By his own admission, his political awareness had awoken after a visit to Cuba in 1963 and a close acquaintanceship with the country’s revolution (years later he would become disillusioned with Castro and his government). He became very involved in the field of human rights, and acted on behalf of writers who were imprisoned by the government (such as in the famous case of Heberto Padilla, in the very same Cuba, in 1971), and even though he was never an affluent man, he donated royalties and award funds to other writers who suffered political persecution in Latin America.

But this involvement, as mentioned, found little expression in his body of work. The allegorical story “House Taken Over,” from his second collection of stories, “Bestiary” (1951), is in my opinion among Cortázar’s most acute and outstanding political texts: it is not by chance that this is the story that produced the largest number of analyses and researches. Like in many of his fantastical works, the realistic, trustworthy and trivial reality of the beginning is later penetrated by nightmarish, undermining elements that rock its foundations and eventually tear it apart and turn it into something else. Although the story can be read in several ways, the most commonly accepted interpretation is the political one. In Argentina, at the time, the text was read as a reaction to Peronism, but it is effective and disturbing anywhere, even seventy years after it was first published in 1946, in a magazine edited by Borges. The mysterious invading force, which does not need to implement actual violence since its mere existence is sufficient in order to conquer, to oust, to expel, takes on a literary expression rare in its fierceness in “House Taken Over.”