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Leopoldo Marechal: Adán Buenosayres (Adam Buenosayres)

En 1948, con el Adán Buenosayres de Marechal, la ciudad se transforma en espacio mítico. La Buenos Aires de unos imprecisos años veinte es aquí centro del universo, y el recorrido de sus calles marca las etapas del peregrinaje simbólico del hombre hacia su propio yo. [In 1948, with Marechal’s Adán Buenosayres, the city was transformed into a mythic space. The Buenos Aires of some time in the 20s is here the centre of the universe and the journey through its streets marks the stages in a symbolic pilgrimage by man towards his own identity.] This statement by the Argentinian critic and novelist, Rosalba Campra, sums up what this book is about. It is a novel where the hero is really the city, in the manner of Ulysses, Palinuro de México, St. Petersburg and others, a novel where a city – in this case, obviously, Buenos Aires – assumes mythic proportions. What is surprising is that the novel was not only little recognised when first published in 1948 in Buenos Aires – probably because its author was too much associated with Peronism – but that it has never been translated into English. (It is, however, available in French and Italian.)

Marechal started writing this book in Paris in 1930 and took eighteen years to complete it. The hero of the book is the eponymous Adán Buenosayres. Note that Adán is the Spanish for Adam. The book is in seven parts, preceded by an “indispensable” prologue, which recounts the burial of the hero and how Marechal has been left the manuscripts which will form the sixth and seven parts. In the first five parts, Adán journeys through the city on the 28, 29 and 30 April of an unspecified year of the 1920s, as recounted by Marechal. The sixth part, called The Notebook of Blue Covers is Adán’s autobiography, while the seventh part Journey to the Dark City of Shitodelphia is his symbolic descent to hell. Like Ulysses, there is no major plot to the novel. What is important is that the hero – both the biblical Adam and the representative of the city of Buenos Aires – gives us a mythical portrait of both his place and time, switching between reality and fantasy as Joyce does, using Ulysses as a base but also using the Bible and Dante.

Adán, of course, is not alone. Schultze, the astrologist and Samuel Tesler, the philosopher accompany him, while his lover, Solveig Amundsen and the Circe figure, Ruth are just some of the women he encounters. Just as Joyce‘s characters are Irish through-and-through using Irish humor and Anglo-Irish language, so Adán and his friends are true porteños, inhabitants of Buenos Aires, with their humour, their language and their ways. But, like Ulysses, what makes this book so wonderful is the mix of styles – from classical to scatological, from dreams to jokes, all with a unique Argentinian flavour – so that you are never quite sure where you or the hero are, except it must, must it not? be somewhere in Buenos Aires, which, in this book, is the centre of the universe.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish by Editorial Sudamericana 1948
First published in English by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2014