The man behind the theft of the Mona Lisa discusses his multiple identities and adventures in leisurely detail to an American reporter.
Argentine novelist, travel writer, memoirist and reporter Caparrós, in supple self-effacing translation, takes ample time to lay out the histories of the “Marqués de Valfierno,” the name that Juan María Bonaglia, bright child of an Italian housemaid in turn-of-the-20th century Argentina, calls himself in his middle age, having assumed several identities to suit several circumstances in his lifetime. The impersonations began as the toddler Bonaglia looked for ways to fit in with the rich members of the household employing Annunziata, his naïve and doting mum. The head of the household took enough of a fancy to the bright lad to send him to the local day school. Between home and school, the child learns enough to know that he will always wonder who he is. The good times end when Annunziata is accused of jewelry theft, unaware that her son is to blame. Exiled from paradise, the two scramble to stay alive. Bonaglia works in a succession of jobs that lead to bookkeeping in a bordello, where he meets Yves Chaudron, the man whose special skills will lead him to the ultimate art heist. Chaudron paints like a dream, but only as a copyist. Unable to create from life, he knocks off anything in two dimensions, including masterworks. Using his chameleon skills to pass himself off as an aristocrat, Bonaglia becomes Valfierno, a noble from the pampas with as many family artworks as Chaudron can crank out to sell to Buenos Aires nouveaux riches. When his cover is blown by another faker, the two ship off to Paris to start over. There Valfierno hooks up with Valérie, a demi-mondaine who just happens to know a guy with a job in the Louvre, and the plans for lifting La Joconde take shape.
Luxurious and intelligent look at identity, class and art—all in an intriguing story based on real events.