New Directions. Mar. 2023. 176p. tr. from Spanish by Chris Andrews. ISBN 9780811231695. pap. $14.95.
When sexagenarian imperial Roman general Fulgentius was a lad, he wrote an autobiographical tragedy that was quickly forgotten—or so he thought. Fast forward 55 years, and he is on yet another military expedition, this time to subdue the rebellious inhabitants of the distant Roman province Pannonia in present-day Eastern Europe. During his campaign to wreak widespread destruction, he coerces both members of his 6,000-legion troupe and captives to stage his resurrected play, which always accompanies him on his missions. Fulgentius seems to place a higher priority on the quality of these productions than with wiping out the enemy. On the return trip, he engages in conversations about aesthetic values with the counterfeiter Maximus, who was taken prisoner and then inexplicably disappears. Fulgentius seemingly undergoes a change as he reflects on what is his true calling, the pen or the sword. Aira fans will find this historical setting a surprise, as the prolific Argentine author usually sets his novellas closer to home in time and place.
VERDICT Aira creates a verisimilar scenario despite its unlikelihood that’s not quite as rambling as his other works. Readers familiar with his style will feel at home with the philosophical digressions that form the nucleus of the text, but the ending nevertheless disappoints.
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