A weird wonder of Argentine and modern literature and a crucial work for Julio Cortázar, The Seven Madmen begins when its hapless and hopeless hero, Erdosain, is dismissed from his job as a bill collector for embezzlement. Then his wife leaves him and things only go downhill after that. Erdosain wanders the crowded, confusing streets of Buenos Aires, thronging with immigrants almost as displaced and alienated as he is, and finds himself among a group of conspirators who are in thrall to a man known simply as the Astrologer. The Astrologer has the cure for everything that ails civilization. Unemployment will be cured by mass enslavement. (Mountains will be hollowed out and turned into factories.) Mass enslavement will be funded by industrial-scale prostitution. That scheme will be kicked off with murder. “D’you know you look like Lenin?” Erdosain asks the Astrologer. Meanwhile Erdosain struggles to determine the physical location and dimensions of the soul, this thing that is causing him so much pain.
Brutal, uncouth, caustic, and brilliantly colored, The Seven Madmen takes its bearings from Dostoyevsky while looking forward to Thomas Pynchon and Marvel Comics.
Arlt (1900-1942) was an Argentinian writer of the '20s and '30s whose work was unheralded during his lifetime. Now it is recognized as a seminal influence on Argentinian modernism. In translating Arlt's best-known novel, written in 1929, Caistor notes that he has retained the "incoherencies" of Arlt's hurried prose, but the power of Arlt's vision remains strong. The protagonist, Remo Erdosain, is an inventor and a crank. His search for 600 pesos to pay back the sugar company he swindled leads to the kidnapping and supposed murder of his wife's cousin, Gregorio Barsut. The most sinister of Erdosain's friends is the Astrologer, a messianic terrorist. One of the Astrologer's followers, a pimp known as "The Melancholy Thug," gives Erdosain the money to pay back his employers, but the embezzlement suddenly seems like a minor problem compared to Erdosain's spiritual deterioration. When Erdosain's wife runs off with an army captain, he plots with the Astrologer to kidnap and kill Barsut. Erdosain wants revenge, and the Astrologer wants to use Barsut's money to buy a brothel. As Erdosian's fantasies blur into reality, we are treated to a world reminiscent of the intense Georg Grosz paintings of sex murderers. The Astrologer, with his enthusiasm for both the KKK and Bolshevism, is perhaps Arlt's most frightening creation, and a shocking prefiguration of Juan Peron, 15 years before anyone had heard of the dictator-to-be. Arlt's magnum opus will lure new readers into a keenly rendered dystopia where official facts and psychic fictions tend to change places. His dark imagination uncannily foretold the impending political milieu.