cover image The Silentiary

The Silentiary

Antonio Di Benedetto, trans. from the Spanish by Esther Allen. NYRB Classics, $16.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-68137-562-5

In the powerful second installment of Argentine writer Di Benedetto’s Trilogy of Expectation (after Zama), a nameless narrator is tormented by sounds. At home, in the street, or during rare trips to the circus or during philosophical enquiries with his oddball friend Besarión, the narrator is plagued by the sound of engines, radios, a madman who howls like a monkey, and other more “metaphysical noises.” To offset these disturbances, he begins writing a crime novel with himself as the detective. But who will the victim be? And who are the killers? As the borders between life and fiction begin to blur, he risks exchanging the role of author for that of culprit in a crime he is blind to (“I myself, the author, will remain unaware of who the criminal is. That way the book can be prolonged indefinitely, until the crime it once was about has been entirely forgotten,” he narrates). Di Benedetto (1922–1986) recasts the major conflict of the modern world as a war between noise and silence with this sly treatise on an individual’s attempts to remain sane in a city where his consciousness is frequently set off-kilter, “in defiance of any lunatic who might pretend otherwise.” The result is existential, nervy, and crisply imagined. (Jan.)