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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Cardboard House

Martín Adán

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To purchase The Cardboard House

Title: The Cardboard House
Author: Martín Adán
Genre: Fiction
Written: 1928 (Eng. 1990, rev. 2012)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Cardboard House - US
La casa de cartón - US
The Cardboard House - UK
The Cardboard House - Canada
The Cardboard House - India
La maison de carton - France
La casa de cartón - España
  • Spanish title: La casa de cartón
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Katherine Silver

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Our Assessment:

B : odd but often striking text(s)

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 4/5/1990 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he narrative's detailed descriptions of his native landscape and its people exhibit Adan's talent and foreshadow his success as an important Latin American poet, if not his skill as a novelist." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Martín Adán is known as a poet, and The Cardboard House is his only work of prose (and even so it includes some 'Underwood Poems' as well as a longer poem, 'Written Blindly', here included as an Afterword). The book is composed of short texts, focused on the Barranco area of Lima, and while there is some narrative progression -- a friend, Ramón, often features, and eventually dies -- it is largely a book of impressions, with Adán often veering off on rather creative tangents, or letting himself be carried away by language itself.
       Early on, Adán suggests: "the city is an oleograph we contemplate, sunken under water: the waves carry things away and alter the orientation of the planes" -- which conveys as well as anything what Adán is doing in this book. An oleograph is a color lithograph -- a layering of colors to achieve effect (apparently to imitate the look of an oil painting) -- and Adán's prose can seem like that, seen distorted under water .....
       Typical is a relatively extended riff on seeing a gringa (an Englishwoman) photographer in the shapes of a jacaranda tree, with descriptions such as:

The gringa was a roaming road, blinded by the sun, leading to the tundra, to a country of snow and moss where a gaunt, gray city of skyscrapers loomed as mysterious as the machinery in a dark factory.
       From childhood and schoolday memories to the effect of literature (in one of the most impressive texts) on him and his friends in their youth, the collection offers hints of autobiography, but also obscures them behind a rush of sensation and impression. He constantly gets carried away:
Streetlamps -- the trunks of shrubs the light twists and the shadows turn green. At six in the morning, at six in the evening, the streetlamps are the most vegetable thing in the world, in an analytic, synthetic, scientific, passive, decisive, botanical, simple way -- the upper edges of the trunks support crystal jars that hold yellow flowers.
       The pithy 'Underwood Poems', like a sequence of aphorisms of a line or two ("Your heart is a horn prohibited by traffic regulation"), are an appealing change of pace from the dense, twisting prose. Much simpler, they include some nicely turned ideas:
Now I can board a transatlantic liner. And during the crossing fish adventures like fish.
       The Cardboard House feels fragmentary, as Adán is quickly led by each new memory or observation to spin out new ideas which quickly spin themselves out, at which point he moves to the next. There are connections, but Adán can not bring himself to force the more artificial ones that would allow this to form one larger and more cohesive text.
       His language and his leaps make The Cardboard House an intriguing read, but it is not entirely satisfying.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 September 2012

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The Cardboard House: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Peruvian poet Martín Adán lived 1908 to 1985.

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© 2012-2023 the complete review

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