Martín Adán (1908–1985), a legendary, reclusive presence in Peruvian literature, published seven volumes of poetry and twice won the National Prize for Poetry. The Cardboard House is his only work of fiction.
Published in 1928 to great acclaim when its author was just twenty years old, The Cardboard House is sweeping and passionate. The novel presents a series of flashes — scenes, moods, dreams, and weather — as the narrator wanders through Barranco (then an exclusive seaside resort outside Lima). In one stunning passage after another, he skips from reveries of first loves, South Pole explorations, and ocean tides to precise and unashamed notations of class and of race: from an Indian woman "with her hard, shiny, damp head of hair — a mud carving" to a gringo gobbling "synthetic milk, canned meat, hard liquor."
As the translator notes, The Cardboard House is as "subversive now as when it was written: Adán’s uncompromising poetic vision and the trueness and poetry of his voice constitute a heroic act against cultural colonialism."
* * *
Margaret Carson, Bill Johnston, and Alex Zucker — judges for the 2013 PEN Translation Prize — had this to say about Katherine Silver’s translation of The Cardboard House in their official citation:
Katherine Silver’s extraordinary translation of Martín Adán’s The Cardboard House, a neglected 1928 masterpiece of the Latin American vanguard, arrives in English as if written yesterday. Silver ingeniously evokes the enigmatic, often-startling imagery of the twenty-year-old Adán’s poetic novel, a fractured dreamscape of wonder and longing set in a resort on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. In her illuminating preface, Silver writes that Adán’s novel “is a world unto itself.” Her delicately wrought translation, perfectly attuned to the original, summons us into this singular world with freshness and grace. It is a superb achievement.