An NYRB Classics Original
First published in 1956, Zama is now universally recognized as one of the masterpieces of modern Argentine and Spanish-language literature.
Written in a style that is both precise and sumptuous, weirdly archaic and powerfully novel, Zama takes place in the last decade of the eighteenth century and describes the solitary, suspended existence of Don Diego de Zama, a highly placed servant of the Spanish crown who has been posted to Asunción, the capital of remote Paraguay. There, eaten up by pride, lust, petty grudges, and paranoid fantasies, he does as little as he possibly can while plotting his eventual transfer to Buenos Aires, where everything about his hopeless existence will, he is confident, be miraculously transformed and made good.
Don Diego’s slow, nightmarish slide into the abyss is not just a tale of one man’s perdition but an exploration of existential, and very American, loneliness. Zama, with its stark dreamlike prose and spare imagery, is at once dense and unforeseen, terse and fateful, marked throughout by a haunting movement between sentences, paragraphs, and sections, so that every word seems to emerge from an ocean of things left unsaid. The philosophical depths of this great book spring directly from its dazzling prose.
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.