Saturday, 17 December 2016

Zama

Finished December 15
Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto, translated by Esther Allen

This novel was first published in Spanish in 1956. The author was Argentinian and worked as a journalist in Mendoza before venturing into fiction. He was imprisoned and tortured in 1976 by the military dictatorship and lived in Spain until 1984, when he returned to Argentina. He died in 1986. This novel is centered around the character Don Diego De Zama, an administrative worker for the Spanish crown posted to Asunción, in remote Paraguay, far from his home where his wife and children remained. While theoretically well-paid, his pay seldom arrives, and finances are one of Zama's big problems. He doesn't have money to send home to support his family, nor enough to live on. The novel is written in three sections, with the first taking place in 1790, the second in 1794, and the third in 1799.
Zama misses his wife Marta, and is consumed by worries about maintaining his image, even as he makes choices that aren't wise. He fights his lust for other women, not always successfully, and holds grudges against those he thinks judge him unfairly. He sometimes lives too much in his head, imagining things that aren't really happening. All of these concerns lead him to a series of bad choices, sinking him further and further in the esteem of those around him and making it less and less likely that he will achieve his dream of getting a posting closer to his family and with more prestige.
This is not a happy novel, but a novel portraying a man's downward trajectory.
The author did months of research before writing the novel, using historical documents to bring a sense of the time and place of his setting and the character of Zama.

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