Maxi — a middle-class, directionless ox of a young man who helps the trash pickers of Buenos Aires’s shantytown — attracts the attention of a corrupt, trigger-happy policeman who will use anyone (including two innocent teenage girls) to break a drug ring that he believes is operating within the slum. A strange new drug, a secret code within a carousel of pirated lights, the kindness of strangers, murder. . . . No matter how serious the subject matter, and despite Aira’s “fascination with urban violence and the sinister underside of Latin American politics” (The Millions), Shantytown, like all of Aira’s mesmerizing work, is filled with wonder and mad invention.
Dense, unpredictable confections delivered in a plain, stealthily lyrical style capable of accommodating his fondness for mixing metaphysics, realism, pulp fiction, and Dadaist incongruities.
— Michael Greenberg, The New York Review of Books
Here’s my request [to New Directions]: give us something written on this side of the 20th century – after Argentina experienced its 2001 economic collapse … I want to see Aira process a society unhinged and chaotic – you know, like ours is right now. My suggestion: Shantytown, an absurdist rending of life in a downtown Buenos Aires Hooverville.
— Joey Rubin, The Argentina Independent
Depending on how you read it, this is either a taut noir crime novel or a searing portrait of Buenos Aires’ poverty-stricken people. Either way, it’s compelling stuff.