In the mid-1990s, when Samanta Schweblin was a teenager in Buenos Aires, reading (by her own account) Ray Bradbury and J G Ballard, the agrochemical firm Monsanto sowed the first genetically modified soya bean crops in Argentina. Now central to the country’s economy, soya is sprayed with controversial pesticides held responsible for a rise in cancers, miscarriages and birth defects. Schweblin, now resident in Berlin, has said that Fever Dream, the first of her books to appear in English, ‘deals with the agro-toxic issue, a big, dangerous new problem for [Argentina’s] health’, but it’s weirder than that description might lead you to expect; what the novel offers is less whistleblowing polemic, more strobe-lit nightmare.
It unfolds as a deathbed dialogue between Amanda, a mother taken ill while on holiday from ‘the capital’, and David, the ten-year-old son of her neighbour at the house she’s rented in ‘the country’. He nags her to recall the details of a conversation in which his mother