cover image Fulgentius


César Aira, trans. from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3169-5

Aira (The Divorce) departs from his frequent setting of contemporary Argentina for a playful and fantastical jaunt into ancient history. Fulgentius, an aging general in the Roman legion charged with pacifying the region of Pannonia, also happens to be a playwright, having authored a tragedy at the age of 12 about a conquering general such as himself, which turned out to have anticipated the course of his life. Though he considers himself but “a sublime amateur,” his thoughts of conquest and the deadening cycles of taxation, rations, and reserves are increasingly overtaken by grandiose meditations on his career as a writer and his designs on his comely young assistant, Lacterius. Soon Fulgentius resolves to stage his opus in each new territory that falls to his armies, casting his actors from the ranks of his own soldiers and captives, musing on the double life of the artist even as he lays siege to enemy strongholds (“Nothing was lost, nothing was useless, since everything could pass into art”). As Fulgentius loses sight of the ramifications of his behavior, Aira springs plenty of coy jabs at the life of the mind and never skimps on details of the rapacious battalions. This is a coup. (Mar.)