The 2017 Best Translated Book Award Longlist has been announced!
This year I have the pleasure of being one of the judges, and I’m thrilled to share this list with you! I’m also excited to see how this gets whittled down to a shortlist and eventual winner over the next several weeks, but for now, here are twenty-five great books that we are celebrating.
Among Strange Victims
by Daniel Saldana
translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
Slackers meets Savage Detectives in this polyphonic ode to the pleasures of not measuring up.
Rodrigo likes his vacant lot, its resident chicken, and being left alone. But when passivity finds him accidentally married to Cecilia, he trades Mexico City for the sun-bleached desolation of his hometown and domestic life with Cecilia for the debauched company of a poet, a philosopher, and Micaela, whose allure includes the promise of time travel. Earthy, playful, and sly, Among Strange Victims is a psychedelic ode to the pleasures of not measuring up.
Angel of Oblivion
by Maja Haderlap
translated from the German by Tess Lewis
Haderlap is an accomplished poet, and that lyricism leaves clear traces on this ravishing debut, which won the prestigious Bachmann Prize in 2011. The descriptions are sensual, and the unusual similes and metaphors occasionally change perspective unexpectedly. Angel of Oblivion deals with harrowing subjects – murder, torture, persecution and discrimination of an ethnic minority – in intricate and lyrical prose.
The novel tells the story of a family from the Slovenian minority in Austria. The first-person narrator starts off with her childhood memories of rural life, in a community anchored in the past. Yet behind this rural idyll, an unresolved conflict is smoldering. At first, the child wonders about the border to Yugoslavia, which runs not far away from her home. Then gradually the stories that the adults tell at every opportunity start to make sense. All the locals are scarred by the war. Her grandfather, we find out, was a partisan fighting the Nazis from forest hideouts. Her grandmother was arrested and survived Ravensbrück.
As the narrator grows older, she finds out more. Through conversations at family gatherings and long nights talking to her grandmother, she learns that her father was arrested by the Austrian police and tortured – at the age of ten – to extract information on the whereabouts of his father. Her grandmother lost her foster-daughter and many friends and relatives in Ravensbrück and only escaped the gas chamber by hiding inside the camp itself. The narrator begins to notice the frequent suicides and violent deaths in her home region, and she develops an eye for how the Slovenians are treated by the majority of German-speaking Austrians. As an adult, the narrator becomes politicised and openly criticises the way in which Austria deals with the war and its own Nazi past. In the closing section, she visits Ravensbrück and finds it strangely lifeless – realising that her personal memories of her grandmother are stronger.
Illuminating an almost forgotten chapter of European history and the European present, the book deals with family dynamics scarred by war and torture – a dominant grandmother, a long-suffering mother, a violent father who loves his children but is impossible to live with. And interwoven with this is compelling reflection on storytelling: the narrator hoping to rid herself of the emotional burden of her past and to tell stories on behalf of those who cannot.
Chronicle of the Murdered House
by Lucio Cardoso
translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
Long considered one of the most important works of twentieth-century Brazilian literature, Chronicle of the Murdered House is finally available in English.
Set in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, the novel relates the dissolution of a once proud patriarchal family that blames its ruin on the youngest son Valdo’s marriage to Nina—a vibrant, unpredictable, and incendiary young woman whose very existence seems to depend on the destruction of the household. This family’s downfall, peppered by stories of decadence, adultery, incest, and madness, is related through a variety of narrative devices, including letters, diaries, memoirs, statements, confessions, and accounts penned by the various characters.
Salacious, literary, and introspective, Cardoso’s masterpiece marked a turning away from the social realism fashionable in 1930s Brazilian literature and had a huge impact on the writing of Cardoso’s life-long friend and greatest admirer—Clarice Lispector.
Doomi Golo: The Hidden Notebooks
by Boubacar Boris Diop
translated from the Wolof by Vera Wulfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop
The first novel to be translated from Wolof to English, Doomi Golo: The Hidden Notebooks is a masterful work that conveys the story of Nguirane Faye and his attempts to communicate with his grandson before he dies. With a narrative structure that beautifully imitates the movements of a musical piece, Diop relates Faye’s trauma of losing his only son, Assane Tall, which is compounded by his grandson Badou’s migration to an unknown destination. While Faye feels certain that his grandson will return one day, he also is convinced that he will no longer be alive by then. Faye spends his days sitting under a mango tree in the courtyard of his home, reminiscing and observing his surroundings. He speaks to Badou through his seven notebooks, six of which are revealed to the reader, while the seventh, the “Book of Secrets,” is highly confidential and reserved for Badou’s eyes only. In the absence of letters from Badou, the notebooks form the only possible means of communication between the two, carrying within them tunes and repetitions that give this novel its unusual shape: loose and meandering on the one hand, coherent and tightly interwoven on the other. Translated by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop.
Eve Out of Her Ruins
by Ananda Devi
translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, who has plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.
Eve Out of Her Ruins is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside of France, Eve Out of Her Ruins is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.
In the Café of Lost Youth
by Patrick Modiano
translated from the French by Chris Clarke
In the Café of Lost Youth is vintage Patrick Modiano, an absorbing evocation of a particular Paris of the 1950s, shadowy and shady, a secret world of writers, criminals, drinkers, and drifters. The novel, inspired in part by the circle (depicted in the photographs of Ed van der Elsken) of the notorious and charismatic Guy Debord, centers on the enigmatic, waiflike figure of Louki, who catches everyone’s attention even as she eludes possession or comprehension. Through the eyes of four very different narrators, including Louki herself, we contemplate her character and her fate, while Modiano explores the themes of identity, memory, time, and forgetting that are at the heart of his spellbinding and deeply moving art.
by Marie NDiaye
translated from the French by Jordan Stump
On the first Tuesday of every month, Clarisse Rivière leaves her husband and young daughter and secretly takes the train to Bordeaux to visit her mother, Ladivine. Just as Clarisse’s husband and daughter know nothing of Ladivine, Clarisse herself has hidden nearly every aspect of her adult life from this woman, whom she dreads and despises but also pities. Long ago abandoned by Clarisse’s father, Ladivine works as a housecleaner and has no one but her daughter, whom she knows as Malinka.
After more than twenty-five years of this deception, the idyllic middle-class existence Clarisse has built from scratch can no longer survive inside the walls she’s put up to protect it. Her untold anguish leaves her cold and guarded, her loved ones forever trapped outside, looking in. When her husband, Richard, finally leaves her, Clarisse finds comfort in the embrace of a volatile local man, Freddy Moliger. With Freddy, she finally feels reconciled to, or at least at ease with, her true self. But this peace comes at a terrible price. Clarisse will be brutally murdered, and it will be left to her now-grown daughter, who also bears the name Ladivine without knowing why, to work out who her mother was and what happened to her.
A mesmerizing and heart-stopping psychological tale of a trauma that ensnares three generations of women, Ladivine proves Marie NDiaye to be one of Europe’s great storytellers.
Last Wolf and Herman
by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki
The Last Wolf, translated by George Szirtes, features a classic, obsessed Krasznahorkai narrator, a man hired to write (by mistake, by a glitch of fate) the true tale of the last wolf of Extremadura, a barren stretch of Spain. This miserable experience (being mistaken for another, dragged about a cold foreign place, appalled by a species’ end) is narrated?all in a single sentence?as a sad looping tale, a howl more or less, in a dreary wintry Berlin bar to a patently bored bartender.
The Last Wolf is Krasznahorkai in a maddening nutshell?with the narrator trapped in his own experience (having internalized the extermination of the last creature of its kind and “locked Extremadura in the depths of his own cold, empty, hollow heart”)?enfolding the reader in the exact same sort of entrapment to and beyond the end, with its first full-stop period of the book.
Herman, “a peerless virtuoso of trapping who guards the splendid mysteries of an ancient craft gradually sinking into permanent oblivion,” is asked to clear a forest’s last “noxious beasts.” In Herman I: the Game Warden, he begins with great zeal, although in time he “suspects that maybe he was ‘on the wrong scent.’” Herman switches sides, deciding to track entirely new game…
In Herman II: The Death of a Craft, the same situation is viewed by strange visitors to the region. Hyper-sexualized aristocratic officers on a very extended leave are enjoying a saturnalia with a bevy of beauties in the town nearest the forest. With a sense of effete irony, they interrupt their orgies to pitch in with the manhunt of poor Herman, and in the end, “only we are left to relish the magic bouquet of this escapade…” Translated by John Batki.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear
by Yoko Tawada
translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
The Memoirs of a Polar Bear has in spades what Rivka Galchen hailed in the New Yorker as “Yoko Tawada’s magnificent strangeness”?Tawada is an author like no other. Three generations (grandmother, mother, son) of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany: they are polar bears who move in human society, stars of the ring and of the literary world. In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography. In chapter two, Tosca, her daughter (born in Canada, where her mother had emigrated) moves to the DDR and takes a job in the circus. Her son?the last of their line?is Knut, born in chapter three in a Leipzig zoo but raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo, until his keeper, Matthias, is taken away…
Happy or sad, each bear writes a story, enjoying both celebrity and “the intimacy of being alone with my pen.”
Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was
translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
The mind-bending miniature historical epic is Sjón’s specialty, and Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was is no exception. But it is also Sjón’s most realistic, accessible, and heartfelt work yet. It is the story of a young man on the fringes of a society that is itself at the fringes of the world–at what seems like history’s most tumultuous, perhaps ultimate moment.
Máni Steinn is queer in a society in which the idea of homosexuality is beyond the furthest extreme. His city, Reykjavik in 1918, is homogeneous and isolated and seems entirely defenseless against the Spanish flu, which has already torn through Europe, Asia, and North America and is now lapping up on Iceland’s shores. And if the flu doesn’t do it, there’s always the threat that war will spread all the way north. And yet the outside world has also brought Icelanders cinema! And there’s nothing like a dark, silent room with a film from Europe flickering on the screen to help you escape from the overwhelming threats–and adventures–of the night, to transport you, to make you feel like everything is going to be all right. For Máni Steinn, the question is whether, at Reykjavik’s darkest hour, he should retreat all the way into this imaginary world, or if he should engage with the society that has so soundly rejected him.
by Banana Yoshimoto
translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda
In Moshi-Moshi, Yoshie’s much-loved musician father has died in a suicide pact with an unknown woman. It is only when Yoshie and her mother move to Shimo-kitazawa, a traditional Tokyo neighborhood of narrow streets, quirky shops, and friendly residents that they can finally start to put their painful past behind them. However, despite their attempts to move forward, Yoshie is haunted by nightmares in which her father is looking for the phone he left behind on the day he died, or on which she is trying—unsuccessfully—to call him. Is her dead father trying to communicate a message to her through these dreams?
With the lightness of touch and surreal detachment that are the hallmarks of her writing, Banana Yoshimoto turns a potential tragedy into a poignant coming-of-age ghost story and a life-affirming homage to the healing powers of community, food, and family.
by Jakob Wassermann
translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Alexander Herzog, a young writer, goes to Vienna to escape his debts and a failed love affair. There he is pursued by book-loving Ganna: giddy, girlish, clumsy, eccentric, and wild. Dazzled and unnerved by her devotion to him, and attracted to the large dowry offered by her wealthy father, he thinks he can mold Ganna into what he wants. But no one can control her troubling passions. As their marriage starts to self-destruct, Herzog will discover that he can never escape her.
Posthumously published in 1934 and based on Wassermann’s own ruinous marriage, My Marriage is a tragic masterpiece that unfolds in shocking detail. This story of rare intensity and drama is now brought to English readers in a powerful translation by Michael Hofmann.
by Santiago Gamboa
translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis
A Colombian philosophy student is arrested in Bangkok and accused of drug trafficking. Unless he enters a guilty plea he will almost certainly be sentenced to death. But it is not his own death that weighs most heavily on him but a tender longing for his sister, Juana, whom he hasn’t seen for years. Before he dies he wants nothing more than to be reunited with her.
As a boy, Manuel was a dreamer, a lover of literature, and a tagger. Juana made a promise to do everything in her power to protect him from the drug-and violence-infested streets of Bogotá. She decided to take him as far from Colombia as possible, and in order to raise the money to do so, she went to work as a high-priced escort and entered into contact with the dangerous world of corrupt politicians. When things spun out of control she was forced to flee, leaving her beloved brother behind.
Juana and Manuel’s story reaches the ears of the Colombian counsel general in New Delhi, and he tracks down Juana, now married to a rich Japanese man, in Tokyo. The counsel general takes it upon himself to reunite the two siblings——a feat that may be beyond his power.
Fans of both Roberto Bolaño and Gabriel García Márquez will find much to admire in this story about the mean streets of Bogotá, the sordid bordellos of Thailand, and a love between siblings that knows no end. With the stylishness that has earned him a reputation as one of “the most important Colombian writers” (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán), Santiago Gamboa lends his story a driving, irresistible rhythm.
by Sergei Lebedev
translated from the Russian by Antonina Bouis
In one of the first twenty-first century Russian novels to probe the legacy of the Soviet prison camp system, a young man travels to the vast wastelands of the Far North to uncover the truth about a shadowy neighbor who saved his life, and whom he knows only as Grandfather II. What he finds, among the forgotten mines and decrepit barracks of former gulags, is a world relegated to oblivion, where it is easier to ignore both the victims and the executioners than to come to terms with a terrible past. This disturbing tale evokes the great and ruined beauty of a land where man and machine worked in tandem with nature to destroy millions of lives during the Soviet century. Emerging from today’s Russia, where the ills of the past are being forcefully erased from public memory, this masterful novel represents an epic literary attempt to rescue history from the brink of oblivion.
On the Edge
by Rafael Chirbes
translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
On the Edge opens with the discovery of a rotting corpse in the marshes on the outskirts of Olba, Spain?a town wracked by despair after the burst of the economic bubble, and a microcosm of a world of defeat, debt, and corruption. Stuck in this town is Esteban?his small factory bankrupt, his investments stolen by a “friend,” and his unloved father, a mute invalid, entirely his personal burden. Much of the novel unfolds in Esteban’s raw and tormented monologues. But other voices resound from the wreckage?soloists stepping forth from the choir?and their words, sharp as knives, crowd their terse, hypnotic monologues of ruin, prostitution, and loss.
Chirbes alternates this choir of voices with a majestic third-person narration, injecting a profound and moving lyricism and offering the hope that a new vitality can emerge from the putrid swamps. On the Edge, even as it excoriates, pulsates with robust life, and its rhythmic, torrential style marks the novel as an indelible masterpiece.
by Basma Abdel Aziz
translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette
In a surreal, but familiar, vision of modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ has risen to power in the aftermath of the ‘Disgraceful Events,’ a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the Gate never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer.
Citizens from all walks of life mix and wait in the sun: a revolutionary journalist, a sheikh, a poor woman concerned for her daughter’s health, and even the brother of a security officer killed in clashes with protestors. Among them is Yehia, a man who was shot during the Events and is waiting for permission from the Gate to remove a bullet that remains lodged in his pelvis. Yehia’s health steadily declines, yet at every turn, officials refuse to assist him, actively denying the very existence of the bullet.
Ultimately it is Tarek, the principled doctor tending to Yehia’s case, who must decide whether to follow protocol as he has always done, or to disobey the law and risk his career to operate on Yehia and save his life.
Written with dark, subtle humor, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism, and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it, and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it.
A Spare Life
by Lidiji Dimkovska
translated from the Macedonian by Christina Kramer
Zlata and Srebra are 12-year-old twins conjoined at the head. It is 1984 and they live in Skopje, which will one day be the capital of Macedonia but is currently a part of Yugoslavia. A Spare Life tells the story of their childhood, from their only friend Roze to their neighbor Bogdan, so poor that he one day must eat his pet rabbit. Treated as freaks and outcasts—even by their own family—the twins just want to be normal girls. But after an incident that almost destroys their bond as sisters, they fly to London, determined to be surgically separated. Will this be their liberation, or only more tightly ensnare them?
At once extraordinary and quotidian, A Spare Life is a chronicle of two girls who are among the first generation to come of age under democracy in Eastern Europe. Written in touching prose by an author who is also a master poet, it is a saga about families, sisterhood, immigration, and the occult influences that shape a life. Funny, poignant, dark, and sharply observed, Zlata and Srebra reveal an existence where even the simplest of actions is unlike any we’ve ever experienced.
Super Extra Grande
translated from the Spanish by David Frye
With the playfulness and ingenuity of Douglas Adams, the Cuban science-fiction master Yoss delivers a space opera of intergalactic proportions with Super Extra Grande, the winner of the twentieth annual UPC Science Fiction Award in 2011.
In a distant future in which Latin Americans have pioneered faster-than-light space travel, Dr. Jan Amos Sangan Dongo has a job with large and unusual responsibilities: he’s a veterinarian who specializes in treating enormous alien animals. Mountain-sized amoebas, multisex species with bizarre reproductive processes, razor-nailed, carnivorous humanoid hunters: Dr. Sangan has seen it all. When a colonial conflict threatens the fragile peace between the galaxy’s seven intelligent species, he must embark on a daring mission through the insides of a gigantic creature and find two swallowed ambassadors—who also happen to be his competing love interests.
Funny, witty, raunchy, and irrepressibly vivacious, Super Extra Grande is a rare specimen in the richly parodic tradition of Cuban science fiction, and could only have been written by a Cuban heavy-metal rock star with a biology degree: the inimitable Yoss.
Thus Bad Begins
by Javier Marias
translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
Madrid, 1980. Juan de Vere, nearly finished with his university degree, takes a job as personal assistant to Eduardo Muriel, an eccentric, once-successful film director. Urbane, discreet, irreproachable, Muriel is an irresistible idol to the young man. But Muriel’s voluptuous wife, Beatriz, inhabits their home like an unwanted ghost; and on the periphery of their lives is Dr. Jorge Van Vechten, a family friend implicated in unsavory rumors that Muriel now asks Juan to investigate. As Juan draws closer to the truth, he uncovers only more questions. What is at the root of Muriel’s hostility toward his wife? How did Beatriz meet Van Vechten? What happened during the war? Marías leads us deep into the intrigues of these characters, through a daring exploration of rancor, suspicion, loyalty, trust, and the infinitely permeable boundaries between the deceptions perpetrated on us by others and those we inflict upon ourselves.
by Laia Jufresa
translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes
It started with a drowning.
Deep in the heart of Mexico City, where five houses cluster around a sun-drenched courtyard, lives Ana, a precocious twelve-year-old still coming to terms with the mysterious death of her little sister years earlier. Over the rainy, smoggy summer she decides to plant a vegetable garden in the courtyard, and as she digs the ground and plants her seeds, her neighbors in turn delve into their past. As the ripple effects of grief, childlessness, illness and displacement saturate their stories, secrets seep out and questions emerge – Who was my wife? Why did my mom leave? Can I turn back the clock? And how could a girl who knew how to swim drown?
Using five voices to tell the singular story of life in an inner city mews, Umami is a quietly devastating novel of missed encounters, missed opportunities, missed people, and those who are left behind. Compassionate, surprising, funny and inventive, it deftly unpicks their stories to offer a darkly comic portrait of contemporary Mexico, as whimsical as it is heart-wrenching.
Vampire in Love: And Other Stories
by Enrique Vila-Matas
translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
Gathered for the first time in English, and spanning his entire career, Vampire in Love offers a selection of the Spanish master Enrique Vila-Matas’s finest short stories. An effeminate, hunchbacked barber on the verge of death falls in love with a choirboy. A fledgling writer on barbiturates visits Marguerite Duras’s Paris apartment and watches his dinner companion slip into the abyss. An unsuspecting man receives a mysterious phone call from a lonely ophthalmologist, visits his abandoned villa, and is privy to a secret. The stories in Vampire in Love, selected and brilliantly translated by the renowned translator Margaret Jull Costa, are all told with Vila-Matas’s signature erudition and wit and his provocative questioning of the interrelation of art and life.
War and Turpentine
by Stefan Hertmans
translated from the Flemish by David McKay
The life of Urbain Martien—artist, soldier, survivor of World War I—lies contained in two notebooks he left behind when he died in 1981. In War and Turpentine, his grandson, a writer, retells his grandfather’s story, the notebooks providing a key to the locked chambers of Urbain’s memory.
With vivid detail, the grandson recounts a whole life: Urbain as the child of a lowly church painter, retouching his father’s work;dodging death in a foundry; fighting in the war that altered the course of history; marrying the sister of the woman he truly loved; being haunted by an ever-present reminder of the artist he had hoped to be and the soldier he was forced to become. Wrestling with this tale, the grandson straddles past and present, searching for a way to understand his own part in both. As artfully rendered as a Renaissance fresco, War and Turpentine paints an extraordinary portrait of one man’s life and reveals how that life echoed down through the generations.
by Pedro Cabiya
translated from the Spanish by Jessica Ernst Powell
Set at the contact zones between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, this is a polyphonic novel, an intense and sometimes funny pharmacopeia of love lost and humanity regained; a most original combination of Caribbean noir and science-fiction addressing issues of global relevance including novel takes on ecological/apocalyptical imbalance bound to make an impact.
A Caribbean zombie — smart, gentlemanly, financially independent, and a top executive at an important pharmaceutical company — becomes obsessed with finding the formula that would reverse his condition and allow him to become “a real person.” In the process, three of his closest collaborators (cerebral and calculating Isadore, wide-eyed and sentimental Mathilde, and rambunctious Patricia), guide the reluctant and baffled scientist through the unpredictable intersections of love, passion, empathy, and humanity. But the playful maze of jealousy and amorous intrigue that a living being would find easy to negotiate represents an insurmountable tangle of dangerous ambiguities for our “undead” protagonist.
Wicked Weeds is put together from Isadore’s scrapbook, where she has collected her boss’ scientific goals and existential agony, as well as her own reflections about growing up as a Haitian descendant in the Dominican Republic and what it really means to be human. The end result is a precise combination of Caribbean noir and science-fiction, Latin American style.
The Young Bride
by Alessandro Baricco
translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
From international bestselling author, Alessandro Baricco, comes a scintillating and sensual novel about a young woman’s ingress into a fantastically strange family.
The hand of the young woman in question has been promised to the scion of a noble family. She is to make her preparations for marriage at the family’s villa, where the inhabitants never seem to sleep. The atmosphere turns surreal as the days pass and her presence on the family estate begins to make itself felt on her future in-laws.
In this erotically charged and magical novel, Alessandro Baricco portrays a cast of mysterious characters who exist outside of the rules of causation as he tells a story, an adult fable, about fate and the difficult job of confronting the Other and creating an Us.
by Antonio Di Benedetto
translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen
Written in a style that is both precise and sumptuous, weirdly archaic and powerfully novel, Zama takes place in the last decade of the eighteenth century and describes the solitary, suspended existence of Don Diego de Zama, a highly placed servant of the Spanish crown who has been posted to Asunción, the capital of remote Paraguay. There, eaten up by pride, lust, petty grudges, and paranoid fantasies, he does as little as he possibly can while plotting his eventual transfer to Buenos Aires, where everything about his hopeless existence will, he is confident, be miraculously transformed and made good.
Don Diego’s slow, nightmarish slide into the abyss is not just a tale of one man’s perdition but an exploration of existential, and very American, loneliness. Zama, with its stark dreamlike prose and spare imagery, is at once dense and unforeseen, terse and fateful, marked throughout by a haunting movement between sentences, paragraphs, and sections, so that every word seems to emerge from an ocean of things left unsaid. The philosophical depths of this great book spring directly from its dazzling prose.