New Internationalist

Natural Selection

October 2009

By Cecilia Szperling. Translated from the Spanish by Oscar Luna.

The central characters in Cecilia Szperling’s novel are not easy to warm to. Ernestina, Cosme and Pablo are middle-class Argentineans unable to find their role in a system that is disintegrating, both economically and morally, and turning on itself. They are art school dropouts, spoilt, corrupt and drug-addled; plugging themselves into the trashiest elements of popular culture and imagining their self-indulgence to be an art form, they drift through their days at the margins of society, expecting nothing and contributing nothing.

The book begins with a vicious assault on Ernestina’s affluent, conformist sister, Emma, by Cosme and Pablo. This almost-motiveless act of violence resonates through the narrative and sets the tone of random brutality justified as self-expression. The trio embark on a doomed spree of drug-taking and sexual adventure through the seamy underbelly of Argentina and Uruguay, a journey that brings them into contact with similarly lost souls and damaged personalities, including a heroin-addicted psychiatrist and a psychopathic anaesthetist.

Drawing on Freudian dream theory and the principles of Darwinian selection, Szperling’s short, punchy novel paints a vivid pen-portrait of the savage and amoral nature of this stratum of Argentinean society. Although at times lacking in focus and overly fond of clunky symbolism, the book is a dramatic demonstration of what ensues when a population is cut adrift from its certainties and attempts to fill a cultural void with synthetic pleasures, with inevitable bleak and chilling consequences.

PW

This column was published in the October 2009 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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Natural Selection Fact File
Product information Aflame Books ISBN 9781906300081
Star rating4
Product link http://www.aflamebooks.com

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This article was originally published in issue 426

New Internationalist Magazine issue 426
Issue 426

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