Barón Biza’s lone novel, first published in 1998 and now appearing in English translation after building a cult reputation in Argentina and beyond. Whatever else The Desert and Its Seed is, it’s hard not to read it as a roman à clef, or even a kind of suicide note. To leave it at that, however, would be to miss the drama that shapes the novel, recounted with cool distance in Barón Biza’s analytical prose: a cycle of immense cruelty and miraculous, but perhaps futile, regeneration ... Barón Biza unfolds this story not as a steady march of dramatic incident but as a volley of thematic counterpoints ... Though at times this seesawing can feel schematic and individual scenes are often thinly drawn, Barón Biza layers so many axes of comparison on top of each other that the various strands of his narration form a teeming network of contrasts.
It was decades before Biza crawled out from under his father’s shadow. After jobbing as an art critic and copy editor at various publications, he wrote The Desert and Its Seed, his only novel, in 1995. Rejected by publishers, it was ultimately self-published, in 1998 — three years before Biza, too, committed suicide. (His mother and sister also took their own lives.) The book, originally something of an underground hit, found a much wider audience when it was reissued in Argentina in 2013. It unfolds in the tragedy’s grim aftermath, hewing close to the facts (as Biza admitted in interviews). Nothing much happens on the level of plot.
Biza’s novel dives headfirst into the severely twisted familial dynamics that surround Mario, a deeply reflective, alcoholic narrator ... Based loosely on real-life horrors committed by his own criminally dysfunctional family, Biza spares no detail in depicting this violence, as Eligia’s flesh melts and disintegrates. This deeply personal tragedy anticipates the widespread, systematized violence of the Dirty War, during which right-wing death squads 'disappeared' thousands of civilians and made such horrific crimes an everyday occurrence. A provocative, meticulous novel that’s both utterly repulsive and morbidly fascinating.