The Silentiary

NYRB Classics. Jan. 2022. 176p. tr. from Spanish by Esther Allen. ISBN 9781681375625. pap. $16.95. F
First published in 1964 in Argentina, this second di Benedetto novel to be translated into English (after Zama, also translated by Allen) features a nameless 25-year-old narrator, a writer whose life is invaded by an onslaught of loud noises in his neighborhood—a bus engine, a construction zone and auto repair site, a circus, radios, an open-air market, and television, among others. Earplugs and police intervention prove ineffective. At one point, he even blasts the musical “noise” of Beethoven to drown out the external loudspeakers. His hypersensitivity to the debilitating urban clamor becomes so intense that death seems like the only recourse; in fact, he unsuccessfully shoots an air gun at his head to relieve the agony. On a broader scale, the scenario is a metaphor for the unwanted and unsolicited intrusions that threaten one’s humanity.
VERDICT Inexplicably ignored and relegated to minor status below fellow Argentines like Borges and Cortázar, di Benedetto is every bit as rewarding and meaningful. The novel’s message about the frustrations of an individual desperately but ineffectively fighting the system is even more relevant today, over half a century after it was written.
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