Mad Toy

Mad Toy

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: Published: July 2002

Author: Roberto Arlt

Translator: Michele Aynesworth

Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction

Roberto Arlt, celebrated in Argentina for his tragicomic, punch-in-the-jaw writing during the 1920s and 1930s, was a forerunner of Latin American “boom” and “postboom” novelists such as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. Mad Toy, acclaimed by many as Arlt’s best novel, is set against the chaotic background of Buenos Aires in the early twentieth century. Set in the badlands of adolescence, where acts of theft and betrayal become metaphors for creativity, Mad Toy is equal parts pulp fiction, realism, detective story, expressionist drama, and creative memoir.
An immigrant son of a German father and an Italian mother, Arlt as a youth was a school dropout, poor and often hungry. In Mad Toy, he incorporates his personal experience into the lives of his characters. Published in 1926 as El juguete rabioso, the novel follows the adventures of Silvio Astier, a poverty-stricken and frustrated youth who is drawn to gangs and a life of petty crime. As Silvio struggles to bridge the gap between exuberant imagination and the sordid reality around him, he becomes fascinated with weapons, explosives, vandalism, and thievery, despite a desperate desire to rise above his origins. Flavored with a dash of romance, a hint of allegory, and a healthy dose of irony, the novel’s language varies from the cultured idiom of the narrator to the dialects and street slang of the novel’s many colorful characters.
Mad Toy has appeared in numerous Spanish editions and has been adapted for the stage and for film. It is the second of Arlt’s novels to be translated into English.


“In the 1920s Roberto Arlt mined this complex urban landscape to create dizzying novels which combine social realism, fantasy, the picaresque, and criminal fiction. Arlt is often seen as a progenitor of Magic Realism, but the recent translation of his first novel, Mad Toy (1926), affords the English-speaking world a chance to read the novel Arlt wrote to describe his evolution as an artist. . . . [H]is story is framed largely as a Darwinian struggle for existence, carried out as a series of cunning forages into the social tapestry of Buenos Aires in the 1920s.” — Mary Sarko , Rain Taxi

“Seemingly plotless but still engaging, this wild, whirling novel of Buenos Aires, originally published in the 1920s, tracks the life and misadventures of a young man whose mind is constantly evolving. . . . Arlt whips up some memorable character portraits. . . . Poetically animated language keeps this novel fresh and surprising, making its belated appearance in the U.S. worthwhile.” — Publishers Weekly

“This is the first novel published by the neglected Argentinian postmodernist writer whose phantasmagoric The Seven Madmen rivals the masterpieces of Cortázar, García Marquez, and Onetti. It’s the story of Silvio Astier (told by himself in old age), a street thug inspired by ‘the thrilling literature of outlaws and bandits,’ and educated in crime by his Fagin-like mentor Rengo (a charmer of a villain if there ever was one). Mad Toy bears interesting resemblances as well to both Don Quixote and Luis Buñuel’s classic naturalist film Los Olvidados. In addition to the novel’s own considerable interest, Aynesworth’s illuminating remarks about Arlt’s vigorous ‘polyglot style’ shed further light on a richly entertaining and unquestionably important work.” — Kirkus Reviews

"Mad Toy is a linguistic menagerie that show cases everything from proper speech to foreign words, dialect, and underworld slang. The novel reflects the chaos and anarchy of the new social environment, a diverse urban jungle where the emergent cultural expression was shaped and defined by the immigrant experience. Aynesworth's translation, based on the original 1926 edition of the novel, preserves these variations in admirable fashion. In her introductory material she provides a well-written overview of Arlt and his literary world." — Melvin S. Arrington Jr. , South Eastern Latin Americanist

“Arlt’s influence on figures like Borges, Cortazar, Onetti, and Piglia is substantial—and equally so are his literary reverberations today, when his grim, sordid view of life seems to speak louder than ever before.” — Ilan Stavans, editor of Mutual Impressions: Writers from the Americas Reading One Another

“Roberto Arlt is the greatest Argentine writer of the twentieth century.” — Ricardo Piglia, author of The Absent City

“With a novel such as Mad Toy, brimming with fantasy and romance, yet pulling the rug out from under the protagonist—and the reader—at every turn, it seems clear that Arlt’s purpose is not just to tell a good story. Along the way, he also illustrates the uses of fantasy and humor. Fantasy, transforming the sordid into the beautiful, makes life seem sweeter; humor, exposing the illusions of fantasy, makes wisdom tolerable.” — From the Introduction


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Roberto Arlt (1900–42) was an Argentine writer who published numerous plays and novels during his lifetime.

Table of Contents Back to Top


A Note on the Translation

Arlt’s Dedication to Ricardo Guiraldes

1. The Band of Thieves

2. Works and Days

3. Mad Toy

4. Judas Iscariot

Appendix. The Neighborhood Poet


Works Cited
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, Texas Institute of Letters Translation Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2940-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2911-4
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