Latam Booklook: 'Mad toy' by Roberto Arlt

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In the midst of poverty, Silvio tries to deal with his longings for intellectual and economic greatness in a savage society to which he does not adapt

Latam Booklook: 'Mad toy' by Roberto Arlt

What is it about?

At the beginning of the 20th century, Buenos Aires was a city of immigrants. From all parts of Europe came workers, tailors, carpenters and workers of all kinds of trade looking for an opportunity in the new world. This massive immigration 'Europeanized' the city and created a base of society with different customs and languages.

Leer en español: Latam Booklook: 'El juguete rabioso' de Roberto Arlt

Silvio Drodman Astier, the protagonist of Mad Toy, lives in this context of immigration, specifically in the sector whose life is more precarious. The great drama of his life is that he must start working, because what his mother earns as a seamstress is not enough to keep him and his younger sister, all with "the certainty of one's own uselessness." Thus, with the dream of being a remembered bandolero, between great spirits to live and the hopelessness in existence, Silvio faces the vicissitudes of life with his bookish knowledge and with a talent for inventing everything, even homemade revolvers.

During the book we accompany this young man in the different jobs he gets with despicable beings for him: stingy booksellers, retail buyers, petty thieves who are his friends and even inconsiderate military men. After every opportunity presented to him, either by his dissatisfaction or by the negligence of others, the result is not what was expected.

The novel, then, is one of training in which we see a young man trying to adapt the adult way of life and is also a picaresque, since comic situations in the midst of a precarious life are not necessary.

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Who wrote it?

Son of a German father and a Triestina mother, Roberto Arlt (1900 -1942) grew up in the poverty environment of immigrants who had recently arrived in Argentina at the beginning of the 20th century. At age eight he was expelled from school and from then on all his learning was self-taught. After escaping at 17 from his home, he exercised all kinds of trades as a salesman, metal smelter and even a bookseller assistant.

Finally, Arlt decide to work in journalism to survive and begins to gain fame with his column Aguafuertes Porteñas in the newspaper El Mundo. He also began to meet with the writers of the Boedo Group who wrote about realist and socialist issues, opposed to those of the Florida Group, of a more aesthetic nature, to which authors like Ricardo Guiraldes and Jorge Luis Borges belonged.

His fictional work, characterized by a despair and humor of the underworld, consists of plays, stories and novels. Of the latter, there are four: Mad Toy (1926), Seven Madmen (1929), The Flame-Thrower (1931) and finally Bewitching Love (1932). He dies at 42 because of a cardiac arrest.

Do I read it or not?

The world that Arlt recreates in the book is a dark one, full of precariousness that permeates not only the material level but also the attitude of its characters. The men and women Silvio encounters as he tries to find out which trade to make money with are not adorable or cause empathy. All the opposite: they are greedy, profiteers, liars and hypocrites. There is no vindication of the marginal characters, but a mockery and criticism of the extremes that they reach due to the mistreatment that society gives them.

For this reason, one could say that Mad Toy is an x-ray of the arrival of modernity in Buenos Aires, only on its less optimistic side. The book does not focus on the technological advances and economic growth of the city, but on how that labor system produces people who betray their principles, who are humiliated, who must fight to survive in a hostile world. This precarious side, written with a mixture of humor and full of colloquialisms, unfolds a reality often ignored that Latin American readers must know to understand not only the functioning of poverty characteristic of our continent, but also the reasoning behind corruption and corruption. lack of principles that flood our institutions.


Latin American Post | Juan Gabriel Bocanegra

Translated from "Latam Booklook: 'El juguete rabioso' de Roberto Arlt"