The Absent City

The Absent City

Book Pages: 160 Illustrations: Published: November 2000

Author: Ricardo Piglia

Translator: Sergio Waisman

Contributor: Sergio Waisman

Latin American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction

Widely acclaimed throughout Latin America after its 1992 release in Argentina, The Absent City takes the form of a futuristic detective novel. In the end, however, it is a meditation on the nature of totalitarian regimes, on the transition to democracy after the end of such regimes, and on the power of language to create and define reality. Ricardo Piglia combines his trademark avant-garde aesthetics with astute cultural and political insights into Argentina’s history and contemporary condition in this conceptually daring and entertaining work.
The novel follows Junior, a reporter for a daily Buenos Aires newspaper, as he attempts to locate a secret machine that contains the mind and the memory of a woman named Elena. While Elena produces stories that reflect on actual events in Argentina, the police are seeking her destruction because of the revelations of atrocities that she—the machine—is disseminating through texts and taped recordings. The book thus portrays the race to recover the history and memory of a city and a country where history has largely been obliterated by political repression. Its narratives—all part of a detective story, all part of something more—multiply as they intersect with each other, like the streets and avenues of Buenos Aires itself.
The second of Piglia’s novels to be translated by Duke University Press—the first was Artifical Respiration—this book continues the author’s quest to portray the abuses and atrocities that characterize dictatorships as well as the difficulties associated with making the transition to democracy. Translated and with an introduction by Sergio Waisman, it includes a new afterword by the author.


“[A] worthy successor to the likes of Borges and Cortázar . . . . Waisman’s introduction and Piglia’s afterward provide helpful thematic and historical background, and overcoming the plot’s difficulties should satisfy anyone interested in seeing how intricate literary puzzles reflect the political significance of the narrative imagination. Macedonio’s recreation of Elena represents the need to transform a repressive ‘objective’ reality into a hopeful virtual reality, and Piglia’s hall-of-mirrors novel reiterates why such a transformation must remain eternally deferred--yet always possible.” — Thomas Hove , Review of Contemporary Fiction

“[P]leasurable and rewarding.” — , Publishers Weekly

“Piglia may be the best Latin American writer to have appeared since the heyday of Gabriel García Márquez. The Absent City, in any case, is a masterpiece.” — , Kirkus Reviews

“Piglia offers a stripped-down, dystopian portrait of futuristic Buenos Aires, a surveillance state in which a journalist named Junior tries to decode a machine that contains a missing woman’s memories of government atrocities.” — Jonathan Bing , Bookforum

“Piglia takes the reader on a dense narrative path that is often confusing but never boring as story after story weaves in and out of this political thriller.” — Frank Caso , Booklist

“Piglia, known for breaking down the barriers between criticism and fiction, has fictionally transposed the life and work of Macedonio into a tortuous and fantastic novel which self-consciously asks what kind of reality is produced by a literary text. But then, in The Absent City, literary reality is the only safe vehicle for repressed and silenced voices.” — Mary Sarko , Rain Taxi

“Ricardo Piglia combines his trademark avant garde aesthetics with astute cultural and political insights into Argentina’s history and contemporary condition in this conceptually daring and entertaining novel.” — , Translation Review

“A truly striking and innovative novel written by one of Latin America’s most highly regarded novelists. Piglia brings into play a swirl of tales mixing dark truths with hallucinatory adventures.” — Gwen Kirkpatrick, author of The Dissonant Legacy of Modernismo

“Piglia is Argentina’s most important novelist, a compelling writer and committed intellectual who relentlessly deals with the complicated relationships between politics and fiction. And Sergio Waisman is an exceptionally gifted translator with a wonderful ear and eye for the reverberations of Spanish in English. The Absent City is a book for our times, one that transcends national boundaries.” — Francine Masiello, author of Between Civilization and Barbarism: Women, Nation, and Literary Culture in Modern Argentina

“Though clearly walking in the riverbank footsteps of the whimsical Macedonio and the noir geniuses Arlt and Onetti, Piglia is a genuine original, gifted with a fluid imagination that rushes past traditional narrative boundaries. The Absent City is a kind of mock thriller that lures its reader on, not with the question, ‘What happens next?’ but with ‘What was it that just happened?’ ” — Robert Coover


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Ricardo Piglia lives in Argentina and is the author of nine Spanish-language books, two of which have been previously translated into English: Artificial Respiration, also published by Duke University Press, and Assumed Name. The Absent City has been performed as an opera in Argentina and Piglia’s books have been translated into Portuguese, French, Italian, and German. His fiction has won the Casa de las Américas Prize, the Boriz Vian Prize, and the Premio Planeta.

Sergio Waisman is Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at San Diego State University. His previous translations include Piglia’s Nombre falso (Assumed Name), which received the Meritorious Achievement Award in the 1995 Eugene M. Kayden National Translation Contest. In addition, Waisman was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Translation Fellowship to support his translation of The Absent City.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2586-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2557-4
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