A Zero Sum Game

With echoes of 1984 and Brave New World, Rabasa de­liv­ers a force­ful, hys­ter­i­cal de­but that’s one for the po­lit­i­cal ages.

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - MONICA CARTER

Ed­uardo Rabasa Christina Mac­sweeney, trans­la­tor Deep Vel­lum Pub­lish­ing Soft­cover $15.95 (400pp) 978-1-941920-38-1

“Out­side of vague moral no­tions and Manichean fa­bles, truth was, in re­al­ity, no use at all,” muses a char­ac­ter on his deathbed, in Ed­uardo Rabasa’s am­bi­tious, oft-hi­lar­i­ous po­lit­i­cal farce, A Zero-sum Game. Ab­surdly sur­real lines like this abound in the tren­chant satire, and in an Amer­i­can elec­tion year like none be­fore, this trans­la­tion of a Mex­i­can novel res­onates as eerily prophetic.

Rabasa takes the highly or­ches­trated ma­neu­vers of a typ­i­cal pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and ap­plies them to an in­ten­sive eleven-day mi­cro-elec­tion be­tween a stal­wart po­lit­i­cal power mon­ger, Selon Per­dumes, and a per­son­ally em­bat­tled po­lit­i­cal up­start Max Michels, as they cam­paign for con­trol of a fic­ti­tious squalid sub­urb known as Villa Mis­e­rias.

Lit­er­ary de­vices are used to lam­poon ev­ery­thing from plas­tic surgery to so­cial and cog­ni­tive lin­guis­tics to law en­force­ment. A mul­ti­tudi­nous cast fea­tures the for­lorn col­lege dropout Max, as well as an out­cast group that in­cludes a meta­con­cep­tual artist, a re­porter, and a slum­lord vil­lain.

With a plethora of so­cial ills to choose from, Rabasa uti­lizes many to su­perb comic ef­fect. His deft han­dling of law en­force­ment man­ages to ridicule the drug-ad­dled po­lice force, the Black Paunches, and en­ter­pris­ing drug deal­ers equally well. He man­ages the dif­fi­cult task of re­main­ing both po­lit­i­cal and in­ci­sive, all while main­tain­ing char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment and plot. Rabasa’s au­tho­rial fi­nesse with satire, al­though up­roar­i­ous, does dif­fuse the nar­ra­tive flow of the story at times, but in such an en­ter­tain­ing fash­ion that it’s eas­ily for­giv­able.

Much of the book’s hu­mor is ef­fec­tive in great part thanks to Christina Mac­sweeney’s trans­la­tion, a Sisyphean task, con­sid­er­ing the de­mands of Rabasa’s world build­ing and in­tri­cacy of the text.

With echoes of 1984 and Brave New World, Rabasa de­liv­ers a force­ful, hys­ter­i­cal de­but that’s one for the po­lit­i­cal ages. This timely novel riffs on chal­lenges that are at the fore glob­ally— drugs, poverty, and class divi­sion. A Zero Sum

Game is a wel­come ad­di­tion to con­tem­po­rary Mex­i­can lit­er­a­ture, with a voice and in­tel­lect that is as­tute and vi­brant, pro­vid­ing much-needed commentary on Mex­i­can-amer­i­can re­la­tions and the abuses of cap­i­tal­ism.

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