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THE SEVEN MADMEN by Roberto Arlt



Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 1984
Publisher: Godine

Argentinian journalist and novelist Arlt (1900-1942) has been cited as an influence on such pioneering writers as Julio Cortazar; and this uneven novel (published originally in 1929) would indeed seem to qualify as a progenitor of the surreal/social element in Latin American fiction, with its special emphasis on spiritual neurasthenia. A man named Erdosian, caught embezzling 600 pesos from his boss for no special reason, must make good the sum. He turns to a friend called ""The Astrologer,"" who lends Erdosian the needed money--but also outlines a plan to set up a network of brothels, proceeds from which would support only revolutionary activity. And this is only the beginning of Erdosian's travails. His meek wife leaves him for another man, Barsut, whom Erdosian then plans to kidnap for ransom, with murder as the intended final outcome. Erdosian's accomplices in this scheme: The Astrologer, The Pig-Headed Man, The Gold-Seeker, The Ruffian, and other castoffs of the novel's title. Soon, however, Erdosian is glimpsing redemption in the person of Hipolita, the Lame Whore. So eventually, though Barsut is kidnapped, he isn't killed--while each of the characters meanwhile has his say about politics or existence. (""To fall. . . to drop even lower. And yet, other men are happy. They find love, but all suffer. It's just that some figure it out and others never do. Some think it's just because they don't have something. But that's a stupid illusion."") Some curiosity-value for literary historians, but a much less vibrant relic than Mario de Andrade's contemporaneous Macunaima (p. 452)--one that often reads like an addled, very feckless imitation of Dostoevesky's The Possessed.