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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Adam Buenosayres

Leopoldo Marechal

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To purchase Adam Buenosayres

Title: Adam Buenosayres
Author: Leopoldo Marechal
Genre: Novel
Written: 1948 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 640 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Adam Buenosayres - US
Adán Buenosayres - US
Adam Buenosayres - UK
Adam Buenosayres - Canada
Adam Buenosayres - India
Adan Buenosayres - France
Adán Buenosayres - Italia
Adán Buenosayres - España
  • Spanish title: Adán Buenosayres
  • Translated by Norman Cheadle and Sheila Ethier
  • With an Introduction and Notes by Norman Cheadle

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Our Assessment:

A : grand, exhausting

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 16/7/2014 Richard Canning

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is much in Adam Buenosayres that responds to Dante, as well as Cervantes, for all the Joycean sensory threnody. (...) The epic sense of disproportion characteristic of Marechalís prose reflects just as much the awesome fear and opportunity felt by the young artist as the effects of rapid social transformation in the Argentinian capital immediately after the First World War. (...) Marechalís remarkable achievement in this novel -- for many native readers today, the countryís foundational work of modern fiction -- is to render his city in copious, robust, contradictory and visceral ways, always mixing high and low culture, as in the Spanish picaresque." - Richard Canning, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Adam Buenosayres is perhaps the most ambitious novel in Argentine literature. Like all great novelists, Marechal was conscious of that challenge and worked using the material of his life. It would be difficult to find a project in contemporary literature as ambitious and as well-realized as that of this novel." - Ricardo Piglia, The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: The Happy Years

  • "(C)haotic, unpleasant" - Emir Rodriguez Monegal, Times Literary Supplement (24/8/1951)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As the eponymous hero's name already makes abundantly clear, Adam Buenosayres is meant to be a primal Argentine novel. The similarities with Joyce's Ulysses are not coincidental, Marechal's novel -- very much a city-novel, covering a short time-span (three days, in this case), of relatively minor incident and yet tending to the all-encompassing -- arguably a South American variation on the theme. Set in 1920s Buenos Aires -- the days are specified (28 through 30 April, Thursday through Saturday), the year isn't -- it is very much of its time, a portrait of the author and a (literary) generation trying to define itself in that Buenos Aires. Dedicated to Marechal's 'comrades' at the short-lived (1924-7) but influential periodical, Martín Fierro, several of these figure, thinly disguised, in the novel, including Jorge Luis Borges and Xul Solar.
       The novel opens with a short 'Indispensable Prologue', revealing that the protagonist is dead, and that he left behind two manuscripts: The Blue-Bound Notebook and Journey to the Dark City of Cacodelphia. Marechal -- the friend entrusted with the deceased's writings -- felt it necessary to preface publication of these two works with an introduction to the author. So the two works ascribed to Adam make up books six and seven -- the concluding two -- of this volume, while the first five -- which take up just a bit more than half of the novel -- are this portrait that is meant to first give a complete picture of the man behind them.
       Marechal begins this five-book introductory portrait with a leisurely account of Adam not-quite waking, setting the pace even more than the tone for what follows. This is a novel that certainly begins in languor -- first Adam's, then that of his philosopher-friend Samuel Tesler (the character based on poet Jacobo Fijman, presented through and through as: "an Eclectic of the finest kind") -- but effectively uses that slow pace to range far and wide in building up a pciture of these characters, circumstances, and Buenos Aires itself.
       Eventually Adam and Samuel have roused themselves and wind up at the Amundsens -- home of the lovely daughters they are enamored of: Adam is deeply in love with Solveig, Samuel with Haydée. Adam carries with him his notebook, his 'Blue-Bound Notebook', of which he admits: "To read this notebook is to read my heart". It is a heart he wishes to open to Solveig -- but she has another suitor, Lucio Negri, and he comes to realize: "in her hand the Blue-Bound Notebook was a dead thing.".
       Adam saw Solveig as: "the primordial matter of any ideal construct, the clay from which fantasies are fashioned"; unsurprisingly, she -- in reality -- can't live up to that. Samuel, on the other hand, while also vexed by how different Haydée is from him, is far more realistic, and less troubled by how she doesn't live up to any of his intellectual-philosophical ideals.
       Adam and his comrades move on, in mild adventures that cover the gamut -- so also a wake (death !) and a brothel (sex !). But, typically, in the case of the brothel, for example:

This lenocinium is abstract. Compared to this joint, Pythagoras's theorem is an orgy.
       Indeed, Marechal doesn't go for the entirely obvious, remaining literarily-playful in these passages through Buenos Aires he leads characters and reader alike through. The philosophical bent is also a constant -- led my Samuel, who enjoys toying with others in such debate -- and there is even a long section that closely mirrors a Platonic dialogue. Plato is also the main reference point -- with Marechal even making fun of his and his characters' obsession with the classical philosopher:
     - Have any of you read Plato's Critias ?
     - Schultz and his whoring books ! groaned Franky. The poor guy's got bats in his belfry.
     Unfortunately, Adam Buenosayres, Luis Pereda, and Samuel Tesler had all read the Critias. And so the inevitable argument broke out
       It's a nice little bit of comedy in a novel full of the juxtaposition between (over-)learning and the everyday. There is a great deal of bookish seriousness -- and allusions on a Joycean level -- throughout the novel, but Marechal weaves it all effortlessly into his narrative. It is a (very) baggy novel, but Marechal's touch remains light enough not to sink it.
       Much of the debate -- actual and suggested, in what the characters encounter -- deals with the state of the nation, of life in Buenos Aires at that time, especially for young intellectuals such as these. Adam is actually employed as a teacher, and this account of his three-day-passage also lingers on that for a while, but Marechal's novel aims for a far greater totality.
       Asked about his position as an Argentine, Adam admits he's very confused:
Unable to endorse the reality our country's currently living in, I'm alone and motionless: I'm waiting, I'm an Argentine in hope. That's how I relate to the country.
       These first five books of the novel, following Adam and his friends for some 350 pages, do make for a complete journey and rounded picture. The sixth book, The Blue-Bound Notebook, is then something of a very different sort, a deeply personal testament. It fits with what Marechal has presented of Adam, moving now entirely within -- a gazing into his soul, as it were, focused entirely on his young-man romantic ideals. It's short, however, and Marechal roars back in the lengthy final section, Journey to the Dark City of Cacodelphia, the most vividly imagined of the novel, sending our heroes on a dialogue-heavy trip through a nether-land of Buenos Aires that closely follows the model of Dante's Inferno.
       Adam Buenosayres is a remarkably sustained effort: the comparisons to Ulysses are entirely appropriate, and like Joyce's novel it requires a certain kind of patience and even indulgence to appreciate. This is large-scale literature of a kind that it isn't much seen any longer; readers out of practice with this sort of thing may find the novel wearing. But page for page, often line for line, this is grand stuff -- as is the larger whole.
       Part of the fun, too, comes from Marechal's modeling so much on figures he knew. Not all of this still resonates particularly strongly outside Argentina (despite translator Cheadle's admirable efforts in his endnotes to point readers in the right directions), but the example of Jorge Luis Borges -- who apparently never forgave Marechal for how he was depicted -- can still be appreciated, as in beautiful little digs such as:
They send him to study Greek at Oxford, literature at the Sorbonne, and philosophy in Zurich. And when he comes home to Buenos Aires, he goes soft in the head over record-industry criollismo, poor sod !
       Special mention must also be made of Norman Cheadle's work here. He translated the novel -- "with the help of Sheila Ethier" -- but in fact his immersion in the work seems almost complete. His Introduction, and the copious endnotes, -- as well as the translation itself -- evince an engagement with the text that is staggeringly thorough. Indeed, the engagement clearly is also academic -- analytic, as opposed to just trying to transpose the text from Spanish into English -- making this edition one that begins to feel 'scholarly', as indeed the level of detail in the endnotes can prove distracting to the more casual reader (who may be better served ignoring them on a first read -- though one hesitates to suggest that, as there's so much richness to the text that doesn't reveal itself immediately to the modern-day reader without the help of these endnotes ...). Rarely does one come across a translation in which the translator has come so obviously close to the text; Cheadle clearly lived and studied Adam Buenosayres for many, many years.
       One can see why Adam Buenosayres -- not the most approachable of texts -- remained a somewhat hidden classic, and even why it has not been translated into English before, but it is a truly great work, and English-speaking readers are fortunate to now have it presented to them in this masterful edition.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 January 2015

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Adam Buenosayres: Reviews: Leopoldo Marechal: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Leopoldo Marechal lived 1900 to 1970.

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