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Roberto Arlt: Los siete locos (The Seven Madmen)

By far the most famous of his books, this novel tells the story of a petty bourgeois, Remo Erdosain, who had earlier appeared in El juguete rabioso [The Angry Toy]. Erdosain is an anti-hero before the term was known. He is a bill collector by profession but also a failure. He is caught embezzling and his wife cheats on him, so, seeking some meaning in his life, he joins a group of outlandish terrorists, bent on destroying urban society and returning to a simpler rural way of life. What makes this novel so fine is firstly the vivid portrayal Arlt gives us of the Buenos Aires underworld and the strange characters who inhabit it and secondly the portrait of poor Erdosain, unwittingly dragged into the plot, without really having much idea of what is going on. Erdosain is duped but fails to see how and why. A worthy precursor to the later Latin American novel and a worthy contemporary of Franz Kafka, this novel is definitely worth reading.

Publishing history

First published by Editorial Claridad in 1930
First published in English by D.R. Godine in 1984
Translated by Nick Caistor