BOOK REVIEW: The Slaughteryard – Esteban Echeverria

The lovely publishers at The Friday Project had a little conversation with me on Twitter and sent me a copy of a new translation of Esteban Echeverria’s The Slaughteryard to review. The Friday Project is an offshoot of Harper Collins and they’re quite an interesting little set of publishers. They source interesting new talent on the web and give previously unseen talent an airing.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of The Slaughteryard before. Apparently this is the first English translation that has been published, so that might explain it. However, given that it is pretty much studied in every school in Argentina and I enjoyed a good few weeks in Argentina a couple of years back, that’s still pretty wrong of me. However, this translation has all bases covered for a novice such as myself.

The work itself is more of a short story, spanning a mere 29 pages. The rest of the book is filled with a comprehensive introduction, extremely useful glossary, the original text and several fascinating appendices, including one section on Federalist verse. Needless to say I have come out of reading this with a much more detailed understanding of the political situation in 19th century Argentina. As the story is so short, you’ll forgive me if in summarising I essentially give away the whole plot! Feel free to skip the next bit, or better still return to this review after you’ve read it for yourself!

The story itself is set in Argentina, 1839. Although a work of fiction, it is set during the terrifying reign of Juan Manuel de Rosa and the whole piece is intricately crafted to demonstrate the political divisions and frighteningly violent division of opinion that the country suffered in that period. It is a hugely powerful story of the events at a slaughteryard, where a young man is accidentally caught up and killed by an angry mob.

Echeverria’s writing is extremely emotive. A moral thinker and poet of his time, he has penned beautifully crafted analogies and similes throughout the work and cleverly draws out the physical and political differences between the Federalists and Unitarians. I was particularly blown away by the similarities in the description of the escaped bull and the unfortunate Unitarian – the wild red eyes, the foaming at the mouth – the unbridled anger at the injustice that was surely to take place.

This book is a real must for lovers of literature. For people of the UK, this is a hidden gem that has been obscured from our view for too long. It truly captures to author’s passion for his country and his desperate desire for reform to take place. This very much reminds me of the patriotic spirit of the people we met in Argentina, their fierce pride in their country, despite many of its problems still not having been resolved in the present day.

More importantly for me, this is an exciting book. Reading the whole package, which must have involved quite some significant amount of research to compile, I was thrown into the murky world of Argentina’s early politics, driven to a large extent by economic dependencies, most notably in this context, the cattle market. Thoroughly enjoyable, and a real educational experience – opening a door for me into South American politics that is rarely available to most Europeans. A solid 10 out 10 Extreme points. Buy it, enjoy it – and then if you’re feeling particularly brave, use the original text to help improve your Spanish!

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