The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El santo [The Saint], one of his more recent novels, somewhat longer than many of his previous ones and not yet translated into English. It tells the story of an unnamed priest in medieval Catalonia who is considered a saint. When he plans to retire to his native Italy, the monastery and local town realise they will lose a major tourist attraction and plan to murder him, as his corpse will be as valuable as the living man. However, he gets away onto a Greek ship, which is captured by Turkish pirates. He is sold into slavery in North Africa but does not seem to suffer. He manages to travel around and becomes close to the rulers of two territories, where we get Aira’s usual digressions on life and thought. There is one major plot twist at the end but it is not terribly important compared to Aira’s views on life and his exposition of the story of an elderly saintly man who finds a new meaning to his life and a new world.
The latest addition to my website is Jorge Barón Biza‘s El desierto y su semilla (The Desert and Its Seed). This is a thinly disguised autobiographical novel, telling of the grim events that happened in the author’s family. Barón Biza’s father threw acid in the face of his wife (while they were discussing divorce with their lawyers). She was badly injured. He then shot himself. Much of the novel involves the various complex, expensive and painful operations that Eligia, the mother in this book, had to undergo in both Argentina and Milan, with her son by her side much of the time. When he was not by her side, he was drinking and whoring. (Both Barón Biza and his sister will also later kill themselves.) The novel is very well told – Barón Biza’s only novel – as Mario, Barón Biza’s name in this book, describes the events, analyses himself and his father and tries to use dry humour to keep going.
The latest addition to my website is Ricardo Piglia‘s Plata quemada (Money to Burn. This is a novelised account of an actual robbery from a bank armoured car in Buenos Aires. Piglia was a journalist at the time and reported on the case. The robbery succeeds but the police track down the robbers, with others betrayed by an informer. There is a final shoot-out in Montevideo. Piglia gives the book both a political edge – it seems that some politicians and police officers might have been involved – as well as a psychological edge, as the criminals seem to be psychopaths, serious drug users and generally mentally flawed. The novel was controversial – Piglia was sued three times over it (details in review) – but it has been acclaimed as a foremost Latin American novel and is certainly a good read.
The latest addition to my website is Luis Sagasti‘s Bellas artes (Fireflies). This is an amazing book from new publisher Charco Press in which Sagasti ruminates on creativity, suicide, how we look at works of art, imagination and story-telling. If it is has a unifying theme it might be Without the slightest doubt, art is the answer. What we can’t be sure about is the question.. Part of the book is looking for that question, while much of the book is stories told about the real and the fictitious (he arbitrarily mixes the two) with stories about real people being often just as fanciful and just and invented as those about the fictitious. From Wittgenstein to Yuri Gagarin, from The Beatles to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, we learn about stories we don’t know about people we do know, some of which are true and some of which are not. Sagasti is such a gifted story-teller – hablador as the Spanish call it – that you cannot help but both enjoy and learn from his work.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El tilo (The Lime Tree; The Linden Tree). This is somewhat different from the normal Aira in that there is no strange or fanciful story but rather the story of a boy growing up in the town of Coronel Pringles did, as did Aira himself. We learn about his father’s abrupt renunciation of Catholicism in favour of Peronism, his father’s job in charge of all the public lighting in the town, of the changes when Perón was overthrown, of the large house where the three of them lived in only one room, with the other rooms all empty and of how the unnamed narrator came to love stories and story-telling. And, of course, we learn of the huge lime tree, its use by the narrator’s father and its ultimate destruction. This is certainly not Aira’s best work but worth reading nonetheless.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.