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.
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.
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.
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.
The latest addition to my website is Martín Caparrós‘ La 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.
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.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s La confesión [The Confession]. This is another strange story from Aira, with most of the action taking place in a chair at a family reunion, where Count Orlov is seated. The Orlovs are descended from a distinguished Russian family that emigrated to Argentina. They are now quite numerous but Orlov is very much concerned that they are mixing with inferior people, particularly those of dark skin, one of whom, in fact, is sitting on the sofa next to him. The action start with an eight year old boy playing on a table on which there is an old-fashioned slide projector. As he clambers down, he knocks something on the projector and a piece of metal springs out of it and hits a young man on the sofa next to Orlov in the mouth. The man seems to be bleeding heavily so Orlov goes off to find a doctor. He does find one, who promises to return shortly but never does. Orlov returns to his chair, where he will spend the rest of the novel. Meanwhile, the man – Miguelito is his name, we later learn – seems to have fallen asleep or lost consciousness. Orlov chats to the other man on the sofa, an older man called Aniceto, whom Orlov vaguely recognises from previous family reunions. Orlov tells a fantastical tale about one of their relatives – Elena Moldova – who seems to be two people, is worried about atoms and dies but comes back to life, while Aniceto tells Orlov the story of Miguelito’s childhood with an abusive father. They talk about symmetry, Orlov watches the children playing and tries to work out the rules of the games they are playing and he ruminates on the family and his own fairly selfish life. As always with Aira, it is a story to think about, not one to try and make sense of but it is certainly original.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El congreso de literatura (The Literary Conference). This is another totally original story from Aira, using Hollywood B movie tropes (mad scientist, unworldly creatures, advanced technology). The hero/narrator César, a literary translator who has not had much work recently because of the financial crisis, manages to find the key to pirate treasure, which has baffled many great brians, and then goes off to the literary conference of the title, in Mérida, Venezuela. There he uses a wasp to get a cell from Carlos Fuentes, so he can clone him as part of his plan to rule the world, all the while enjoying the swimming pool, watching the staging in the airport of a post-modern story of Adam and Eve, which he wrote some time ago, and hoping to bump into a former lover. It is both great fun and also has a serious intent, even if that serious intent is merely to tell a good and unusual story. Fortunately, it is readily available in English, thanks to New Directions.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Las aventuras de Barbaverde [The Adventures of Barbaverde]. Yes, I am afraid yet another novel in Spanish that has not been translated into English (and many more to come, I regret.) This is now the eighth of his works that I have read, four of which have not yet been translated into English though he is so prolific, it must be hard for the translators and publishers to keep up. This one was something of a disappointment, compared to his usual works. It is a parody of the superhero/science fiction novel, featuring a superhero called Barbaverde (= Green Beard) who is barely seen in the novel, fighting his implacable foe, Frasca (who is also barely seen). There are four separate stories in the book and the main character is a rather naive journalists called Aldo Sabor from Rosario in Argentina, who is in love with an installation artist, Karina, and who inadvertently assists Barbaverde in saving the world. Aira mocks the genre but it also gets rather silly as we see a giant fish hovering over Rosario, toy soldiers that come to life and an attempt to destroy the present, leaving only the future and the past. It is still worthwhile reading, as is anything by Aira but not his best.
The most recent additions to my website are two César Aira novels. I continue to be amazed by everything I read of his. Varamo (Varamo), which has been translated into English, is a novel about a low level Panamanian civil servant who goes home one evening and, though he has never written, indeed, never even read a single line of poetry, writes, without correction, one of the (fictitious) classics of Central American poetry. As this Aira, lots of other things happen in the space of a fairly short novel, involving forged money, embalming, a possible revolution, the smuggling of golf clubs, pirate publishing and the hearing of voices.
Las noches de Flores [The Nights of Flores], sadly, has yet to be published in English (though it has been translated into several other languages). It tells the story of a pizza delivery service in the Flores suburb of Buenos Aires. It starts off fairly low key, with the account of an elderly couple who work for the service, delivering on foot, as well as stories of some of the young men who work for the service. In particular, there is a kidnapping and murder of a delivery driver. Suddenly, the novel explodes, as a massive conspiracy is revealed and all hell breaks loose. This, like the other six Aira novels I have read, only confirms Aira as one of the leading novelists of the age.