A novel by Juan Cardenas, translated by Lizzie Davis
June 2, 2020 • 5 x 7.75 • 144 pages • 978-1-56689-580-4
The lives of a scientist, his wife, and his patient collide, laying bare the carefully constructed political and personal narratives they have crafted for themselves.
A scientist recruits volunteers for the trial of a new recreational drug that exclusively affects women. Among them is “number 4,” who becomes emotionally involved with first the scientist, then his wife, a well-known visual artist in the midst of a creative crisis. The scientist is oblivious to the atrocities his new drug will bring to the city; his wife is oblivious to the superfluousness of the objects she committed her life to exhibiting in galleries and museums. Number 4’s presence pierces the couple’s complacency, gradually undoing the many certainties they’ve accumulated in their lives of ease.
About the Author
Juan Cárdenas (1978) is a Colombian art critic, curator, translator and author of the novels Zumbido (451 Editores, 2010/ Periférica, 2017), Los estratos (Periférica, 2013), Ornamento (Periférica, 2015), Tú y yo, una novelita rusa (Cajón de sastre, 2016) and El diablo de las provincias (Periférica, 2017). He is also the author of the short story collection Carreras delictivas (451 Editores, 2008). He has translated the works of writers as William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Gordon Lish, David Ohle, J. M. Machado de Assis and Eça de Queirós. In 2014, his novel Los estratos received the Otras Voces Otros Ámbitos Prize. In May 2017, he was named by the Hay Festival in Bogotá as one of the 39 best Latin American writers under the age of 39., Cárdenas currently coordinates the masters program in creative writing at the Caro y Cuervo Institute in Bogotá, where he works as a professor and researcher.
About the Translator
Lizzie Davis is a translator from Spanish to English and editor at Coffee House Press. Her recent book-length translations include Elena Medel's My First Bikini and a co-translation of Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions with Valeria Luiselli.
“This blow-me-over novel, set in a post-narco-baroque Colombia that could be anywhere, begins with a medical study of women committed to ingesting, in exchange for payment, an experimental and addictive recreational drug. Their dreams go strange, serving as a kind of litmus which registers lurid abscesses in a class-and-youth-obsessed society and in what we mistook to be the women’s ordinary lives. Soon, prophetic graffiti appears on walls around the city. Juan Cárdenas is masterful in his rendering of dreamy dreams, in his evocation of workplace psychology, in his urge to keep shifting the structure of his narrative even while he consistently delivers a prose so energetic, restless, and particular that its astonishing poetic qualities—someone ‘threatening pain with extortion,’ someone ‘signing imagined telegrams of dried monkey meat,’ the night recovering, at last, ‘its vulgarity’—don’t give us any pause. And translator Lizzie Davis is the next generation’s Natasha Wimmer, one of our most rewarding and savvy translators from the Spanish.” —Forrest Gander
"In this disquieting dystopia, impeccably translated by Lizzie Davis, the prose of Juan Cárdenas surpasses the beauty promised by the sinister drug of happiness. A very subtle, smart book indeed.” —Alia Trabucco Zerán
Praise for Juan Cárdenas
“Ornamento is a novel dense in ideas, witty in its style, and close to the prophetic in its condemnatory speech.” —Nadal Suau, El Cultural
“A novel of high density—in terms of ideas, plot, and language—Ornamento is the confirmation that Juan Cárdenas is one of the most interesting writers working in the Spanish language today.” —Daniel Saldaña París, Tierra Adentro
“Juan Cárdenas has conceived a maddeningly delightful, genuinely literary novel.” —José de María Romero, Revista de Letras
“The novels of Juan Cárdenas suggest that at times we can come close to understanding the terror of history.” —Edmundo Paz Soldán, El boomeran(g)
“The lyricism and the democratic polyphonies that constitute some of the best Latin American literature are present here. Juan Cárdenas’s prose couldn’t be further from predictable literary language.” —Marta Sanz, El confidencial
“With this story, Cárdenas achieves, once again, a detailed description of the Latin American scene, not by mentioning the places or countries, but by way of the accents and attitudes of his characters.” —Verónica Figueroa, El País
“The atmosphere of the novel goes ratcheting up its sense of unease by degrees, echoed by the dogs, whose initial unsettling barks become the terrifying howls of beasts in chains.” —Teresa Lezcano, Sur
“The works of Juan Cárdenas are disturbing and provocative.” —Catalina Holguín Jaramillo, Revista Arcadia