César Aira: La costurera y el viento (The Seamstress and the Wind)

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s La costurera y el viento (The Seamstress and the Wind). This is another madcap adventure by Aira, as a mother (the eponymous seamstress) thinks her young son is in a lorry that is heading to Patagonia (the end of the world) and sets off in a taxi in pursuit, carrying a bulky wedding dress which she is sewing for a woman who has to get married suddenly. The taxi crashes into a lorry, she is carried by the wind and her gambling husband joins the hot pursuit, he, in turn pursued by a strange small blue car, with all of them ending up in a strange gambling joint in the middle of nowhere. All the while the narrator is commenting on travel (he hates it though he is writing the novel in Paris), memory and forgetting. It is glorious fun even if you have no idea what is going to happen or why.

Ricardo Romero: La habitación del presidente (The President’s Room)

The latest addition to my website is Ricardo Romero‘s La habitación del presidente (The President’s Room). This is Romero’s first work published in English, from a new press, Charco Press. The narrator, a boy, lives in a house with his parents and brothers. The house, like others in the neighbourhood, has a president’s room, set aside in case the President visits. The boy, unnamed like the other characters, has a few worries about the house, the room, houses with basements, adjoining houses and other issues, which Romero skilfully describes in a way to make the whole story unsettling. He is scared to enter the President’s Room but, inevitably, one day the President does come and our narrator, alone of his family does see him. Romero tells his story well and this is an interesting introduction to Charco Press.

Ricardo Piglia: La ciudad ausente (The Absent City)

The latest addition to my website is Ricardo Piglia‘s La ciudad ausente (The Absent City). This is a complex novel – a detective story, a political novel, a Joycean extravaganza, a Bildungsroman and a city novel, set during Argentina’s dirty war but concerned not only with the struggle against the brutal government but with two authors – James Joyce (whose Finnegans Wake acts as a sacred text for those fleeing the government repression) and the far less well-known (in the English-speaking world) Macedonio Fernández who has created a complex machine based in part on a Poe story and in part on the brain of his late wife, Elena. Junior, a journalist, is tracking down the machine and the Engineer, who may well have been the programmer of the machine, and gets in involved with various unsavory characters as well as those fleeing the government repression. It is a highly intelligent and original novel though, sadly, does not seem to have had the success outside Argentina that it had there.

César Aira: La liebre (The Hare)

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s La liebre (The Hare). If you know and love Aira, as I do, you will know what to expect: the Southern plains of Argentina, strange adventures, philosophical discussion, things not being what they seem, fantasy/magic realism. This novel is set in the nineteenth century and involves an English naturalist,Clarke, who is looking for the legendary Legibrerian hare. Much of the time, he spends with the Mapuches, gets involved in their politics and war, has philosophical discussions about the semantics of their language, learns that his hare can fly (perhaps), meets his double and is promoted to be general of the Indian tribe. It is all wonderful fun, as usual, with fanciful adventures, things not being what they seem and a complex and contorted plot involving everybody being connected in some way, even Charles Darwin.

César Aira: La villa (Shantytown)

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s La villa (Shantytown). This is another highly original work from Aira, with a very complicated plot involving a boy from a wealthy family, who is not very bright but is very strong, helping scavengers from a nearby shantytown collect rubbish, with a view to selling anything of value. This is only the start of a story involving drug dealers, an evangelical church buying up gyms, crooked cops, gun-toting judges and a cataclysmic storm, with Aira having his usual philosophical ruminations, this time on perception and awareness and the value of the individual. As always from Aira, it is a highly imaginative and enthralling work.

César Aira: Las conversaciones (Conversations)

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Las conversaciones (Conversations). This is another brilliant long story/short novel from Aira, about his favourite subject of the boundaries between fiction and reality. It starts with two friends talking about a trashy Hollywood film they saw the previous night on TV, with the narrator mocking the fact that a poor Ukrainian goatherd was seen wearing an expensive Rolex watch and leads on to a discussion about the plot of the film, which goes from a fairly straightforward Hollywood view of Eastern Europe to an incredibly complex film about toxic algae, flying goats, giant Cossacks and the CIA doing what the CIA do, made more complex by the fact that nether of the two saw all of the film (though both saw different parts of the film). This whole issue leads to a long (and very interesting) discussion about the border between fiction and reality and ever-changing fiction and reality, in a way that only Aira can wrote about. Another first-class work from César Aira.

Ricardo Piglia: Respiración artificial (Artificial Respiration)

The latest addition to my website is Ricardo Piglia‘s Respiración artificial (Artificial Respiration). This novel, published during Argentina’s Dirty War, goes around that issue, focussing on history and literature and, using, to some degree the detective novel form. The first part involves an exchange of letters between writer Emilio Renzi and his uncle Marcelo Maggi. Renzi had learned from the family that Maggi had stolen money from his wife and run off with a dancer. It seems that the real story is more complicated, involving politics. Maggi is writing a book about Enrique Ossorio, who worked in the early nineteenth century for an Argentinian dictator, while spying against him for the opposition and the aggrieved wife is the great-granddaughter of Ossorio. In the second part of the book Renzi goes to meet his uncle but does not find him but has long discussions, primary about literature with his uncle’s friends. The book is enigmatic, discursive and one of the great Argentinian novels.

César Aira: Yo era una mujer casada [I Was a Married Woman]

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Yo era una mujer casada [I Was a Married Woman], one of his stories that has not (yet) been published in English. This one tells of a woman, Gladys, in a terrible marriage. Her husband abuses her, drinks, does drugs and takes all her money (she is the sole breadwinner). She has no real friends, only imaginary ones, her parents are on the other side of Buenos Aires and she rarely sees them. She does not leave him saying it could be worse. She is surprised when he decides to visit them but horrified when he returns with a box which, when she opens it, contains the heads of her parents. Eventually, but only after a few days, she realises that they are not real heads but merely models, made by a sculptor friend of her husband. She subsequently gets very ill and, when she returns from hospital, finds her husband has sold most of her possessions and is sitting in a chair, in a catatonic state. She does find a solution but not even vaguely the obvious one, involving a magic carpet, a ruby and, in particular, a statue hidden away in a poor neighbourhood.

Martín Caparrós: La Historia [History]

The latest addition to my website is Martín CaparrósLa Historia [History]. This massive novel – over a thousand pages long – was first published in 1999 but only in a very limited print run, so it has been very difficult to obtain. Anagrama have now published it in a larger print run. It is essentially a foundation myth for Argentina, inventing an entire civilisation located where the now extinct Calchaquí lived and tells of their complex and advanced culture. It is based on a manuscript found by a modern Argentinian, Mario Corvalán-Ruzzi, in a (fictitious) French château and written in French. Corvalán-Ruzzi has tried to track down the original Spanish, written by a Spanish monk taking dictation from Oscar, a man waiting for his father, the current king (or Father, as they call them) to die so that he can succeed. As he has been unable to find a Spanish version, we are presented with his translation of the French into Spanish, complete with very detailed notes. He outlines the history of the culture (called only The City and the Lands) and their often (to us) peculiar customs and behaviours. We follow them, indeed, from their founding by Albert, the first Father to Oscar, the twenty-first and last, as well as learning much about them. It is a brilliant and thoroughly original work, giving us the portrait of a civilisation that is very different from ours, though not without some similarities. I would like to hope that it might one day make it into English but I am not optimistic. Whether it does or not, it will be one of the great modern classics of Latin American literature.

Ateneo bookshop

I have just returned from the one continent that has no native born writers (though it does have a few native born people). It also has one bookshop, as the Port Lockroy bookshop in the British Post Office sells a few books. I am, of course referring to Antarctica. However, en route we stopped in Buenos Aires and I managed to visit the Ateneo bookshop (featured in the Guardian), a former theatre, now a bookshop, an essential visit if you are in Buenos Aires. The stage that you can see at the back in my photo is a café and there is a good section of Argentinian fiction on sale.