cover image Zama


Antonio Di Benedetto, trans. from the Spanish by Esther Allen. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-59017-717-4

Available in English for the first time, this 1956 classic of Argentine literature presents a riveting portrait of a mind deteriorating as the 18th century draws to a close. Zama is a provincial magistrate of the Spanish crown, obsessively seeking elevation to "a stable position in Buenos-Ayres or Santiago de Chile." But his service to the Gobernador goes unrewarded, and as the 14 months of his posting stretch into nine years, Zama's connection to his distant family frays and then vanishes. He moves from an unconsummated affair with the wife of a nobleman to impregnating "an impecunious Spanish widow" and on to a "stunted, monstrous woman." Zama's mind degenerates along with his romantic prospects, and it's in the nearly imperceptible transmutation of Zama's fixation on "soft, mild love" into a fascination with the existential "horror of being trapped in absurdity" that Di Benedetto proves to be a vital master. Zama makes a last-ditch effort to secure a "better destiny" by joining a legion venturing ominously into the country to capture a former bureaucrat accused of fomenting "rebellion among the Indians." The final images of the novel are haunting and unforgettable. This extraordinary novel, whose English translation has been so long in coming, is a once and future classic. (Aug.)