Currently reading The Mad Patagonian by Javier Pedro Zabala




Who was Javier Pedro Zabala (1950-2002)?

Cover art adapted from La Verbena ("The Fair")
by Maruja Mallo, 1927




Zabala's translator, Tomas Garcia Guerrero (1937-2016), who died shortly after completing the translation, his first (just as the writer he translated also died shortly after finishing his first novel) explained:

"Zabala was unknown as a writer during his lifetime. He did not seek out other writers, although he did endeavor to maintain his strange, intermittent, secretive, somewhat conspiratorial relationship with [Roberto] Bolano; but he did not cultivate a writer's persona; he did not live what we would normally conceive as a writer's life, except for the fact that he was constantly writing . . . And though he stopped writing for a time when his wife disappeared in 1996, by 1998 he was back at his typewriter. He died at the age of fifty-two, two months after he had completed his novel, without fanfare, unnoticed by anyone save his daughter, in a tiny cinder block house with a tin roof and a view of the Caribbean Sea in La Boca, Cuba, a small seaside village in Sancti Spiritus province. Zabala lived in La Boca for the last twenty-six years of his life. His daughter was born there. But he himself had not been born in Cuba, nor were his parents Cuban. So we are left with a series of questions regarding his personal identity. . ."

And what is The Mad Patagonian?  Surely I won't die shortly after I finish reading this monumental novel, will I?  The publisher of the 1,268 page novel, Peter Damian Bellis (of River Boat Books) has read the novel numerous times and, as far as I know, is thankfully still alive, so I trust my chances.  But I trust myself much less with attempting to adequately elaborate upexperience of what I've so far read of The Mad Patagonian, and defer again to the translator's, the late Tomas Garcia Guerrero's, lively summary of the novel, from his as comprehensive as it is fascinating, fifty-three page introduction:
 
"Zabala decided that the book would be divided into nine separate but interconnected novellas of varying lengths. The stories begun in the earlier novellas would not be concluded until the later sections . . . The first novella would introduce the leitmotif of the eternal quest for true love, and then open up into the second novella (a literary nod to Henry Miller, Julio Cortazar, Alfonso Reyes, and again, Vila-Matas), which Zabala described as the beginning of his search for his Spanish roots. The second novella would open up into the third, the third into the fourth, and so on. The ninth novella would circle back to the narrative begun in the first novella. . ."

"The Fair" by Maruja Mallo
". . . the arc of the story through the nine novellas works it way backwards through time and history . . . "

Through the late twentieth century malaise that was Miami, FL; through 1890s Logrono, Spain; through "Santiago, Cuba, circa 1900-1907," through "1950s Havana," where "corrupt government officials and remorseless gangsters who read [Luigi] Pirandello find themselves in a battle to the death with anarchists from Germany, who believe they are working for a sinister, alien (as in outer space) race intent on subjugating the Earth," through "a contemporary parallel universe America (with one Kafkaesque detour thru parts of France, Germany, and the city of Prague) where an aging Basque immigrant who fought Franco, a World War One tank commander, Latin-American revolutionaries, CIA operatives, FBI agents, ex-poets, ex-priests, atheists, an internationally acclaimed porn star, an expert on Nazi mysticism and the occult, a modern-day saint, a Hollywood movie director . . . and a hairdresser from Buenos Aires who once cut the hair of Jorge [Luis] Borges in a hotel room in NYC, all take their turn on center stage, and the hope of finding paradise takes on profoundly spiritual dimensions."
 
". . . The Mad Patagonian goes far beyond the scope of a generational epic and becomes in the final analysis a psychological, even surreal exploration of the mythic power of the imagination, of human consciousness itself."

Advance reader copies of The Mad Patagonian are available for purchase now at River Boat Books.