The latest addition to my website is Juan José Saer‘s El limonero real (The Regal Lemon Tree). the character in this book – an extended family celebrating New Year’s Eve – live on a series of interconnected islands. The main character, Wenceslao, is married to an unnamed woman. They lost their only son some six years ago and while he has more or less recovered, she is still in deep mourning. He goes off to another island to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her parents, her sisters and the sisters’ respective families, while she refuses to come. We follow the celebrations but we also follow Wenceslao’s dream-like approach to life, both in the present – at the celebration he goes off for a nap and dreams – but also his memories, sometimes distorted, of the past and even an imaginary reunion with his son. The family traditional New Year’s celebration, family issues and the like, are mixed in with Wenceslao’s detachment from life and from the world around.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El divorcio (The Divorce). The book is about a lot of things but not divorce, except for the title and the fact that our US narrator Kent is recently divorced. Kent heads to Buenos Aires for a month and, while in a café, the owner opens the awning and soaks a passer-by. The passer-by, Enrique, turns out to know Kent, his companion and another customer and his connection with each one leads to one or more fantastical, improbable, Aira-like tales, involving Krishna, a major school fire, a drug dealer masquerading as a sculptor, a management manual which seems to be the key to all wisdom and the Chinese economy and its influence on the Argentinian economy, amongst other things. Even the water that soaked Enrique may be divine intervention. It is a wonderful, thoroughly original imaginative story, with Aira on top form.
The latest addition to my website is Martín Caparrós‘Sinfin [Endless]. The key theme of the book is immortality. We follow the development from the present time to 2072 of a system called 天, Chinese for heaven, which is a fairly sophisticated way of transferring the human brain to a smart machine, replete with artificial intelligence and virtual reality so that, after death, we can all live the life we want. Caparrós goes into considerable detail about the various steps along the way, which, inevitably, are not always straightforward. At the same time,we are following world events (bad), the takeover of the Chinese and the real story (as opposed to the official story), as told by our investigative narrator, who finds the real truth behind the project which, inevitably, is not as it seems. It is an excellent book, not least because Caparrós goes into considerable detail about how the project was developed, including its failures and success and still finds time to mock that nice Mr. Trump.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Margarita. This is not one of Aira’s best. The narrator, presumably based at least in part on Aira himself, is, just eighteen, and is to leave his hometown of Coronel Pringles (Aira’s hometown) to study in Buenos Aires. As the date approaches he is suddenly overcome by a terrible fear of leaving his friends and family but manages to overcome it by writing poetry. The family will later go to spend summer in their large family house. Margarita, whose father has challenged the Argentinian authorities and been persecuted for it, is staying nearby with her father. The narrator and Margarita have an apparently non-sexual, nature-based relationship, which is short-lived as her father has to leave suddenly. And that is it. Give this one a miss.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Canto Castrato. This is by far the longest novel by Aira I have read and by far the most disappointing. It is not an Aira-like novel but a fairly conventional historical novel set in Naples, Vienna, St Petersburg and Rome in the mid-eighteenth century. We follow the story of Micchino, a Neapolitan castrato, his impresario, Augustus Kette, the impresario’s daughter, Amanda and various hangers-on with brief appearances from historical characters such as Pope Clement XII and Catherine the Great. Micchino gets tired of fame and disappears. Kette finds him. Amanda has marital problems. Micchino and Co. help out. That is about it, with a bit of gossip, geopolitics, local colour galore, mild satire and chit-chat thrown in. Aira himself has not been too enthusiastic about this novel and I do not really blame him. It has not made it into English as yet and I cannot see that it will.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Fulgentius. The eponymous hero of this book is a sixty-seven year old Roman general. He is setting out on his latest campaign – he has already been on over a hundred – this one to Pannonia (Eastern Europe). One thing distinguishes him from most generals. When he was twelve he wrote an autobiographical tragedy – a new genre in Roman tragedy – initially meant as a pastiche of Roman tragedies, but which took on a more serious tone as he was writing it. It was praised by his tutor but then forgotten till someone, unknown to him, revived it thirty years later. He now takes it on his travels and has it performed at every town he halts at during his campaign, very concerned about how it is performed. We follow the performances and his campaign, during which he thinks, as we might expect from Aira, about a lot of things, even though he hates philosophy. This is somewhat different from the usual Aira book but, as always, an interesting read.
The latest addition to my website is Agustina Bazterricas Cadáver exquisito (Tender Is the Flesh). This is a novel about cannibalism, not occasional cannibalism but official, world-wide cannibalism. A virus has led to all animals being wiped out (though it may have been fake news) and eating human flesh is the norm. Certain groups (the poor, immigrants, the marginalised) have been bred for their meat. We follow the story of Marcos Tejos, manager at a processing plant, i.e. one which takes humans, kills them and sells them to butchers as meat. We follow Marcos as he makes his rounds, visiting the breeding stations, the butchers, even the hunters, though he has his own problems (wife gone back to her mother after death of their young son, father with dementia). Bazterrica spares us no details and she gives us full details of, for example, the slaughtering process. Not a novel for the squeamish but she makes her point about overpopulation, carnivores and human hypocrisy.
The latest addition to my website is Sergio Bizzio‘s Borgestein. Enzo, the narrator, is an Argentinian psychiatrist. He is attacked and wounded with a knife by one of his patients, Borgestein. This traumatises him so much that he buys a cabin in the mountains and heads off there, to do nothing. He leaves behind his wife, Julia. They have been married eighteen months but have barely seen each other in that time, as they have different schedules. She is a very successful theatre actress. At the cabin, there is a waterfall which is beautiful but whose noise really annoys him, so he starts a project to fill up the pool below with rocks. Apart from a puma attacking a passer-by and the noisy waterfall, he seems to more or less settle down, till he sees a photo of Julia in a magazine with Borgestein standing just behind her. It is a fine novel, with various plot strands to keep us interested.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s Artforum (Artforum). This is a series of short pieces all linked by the US art magazine Artforum. The narrator is a devoted reader of the magazine but it is difficult to obtain in Buenos Aires, where he lives so, eventually, he subscribes to it. However, delivery is not reliable and this causes him much grief. However, in normal Aira fashion, we get all sorts of odd tangents, such as the magazine having a mind of its own, the narrator getting killed by a policeman because of the magazine, the narrator even considering producing his own edition of the magazine, not to mention the somewhat odd issue of clothes pegs randomly breaking. As always it is great fun and highly original.
The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El mago [The Magician]. The short way to describe this novel would to say it is about a depressed magician. Our hero Hans Chans, is an Argentinian magician. Unlike other magicians, he does not perform tricks, he really can do magic. However, he has been reluctant to use his skill, for example, to make money for himself, in case it aroused suspicion so he has made a good and honest living doing a magic act, not using sleight of hand or similar tricks but really doing magic. However, he wants to be more than good, he wants to be great. Much of the novel is about his attendance at a magicians’ congress in Panama where he plans to reveal his new trick and where a lot goes wrong for him, making him even more despondent than he has been. The problem is that he lacks the imagination to invent one. Then his magic seems to have a mind of its own, which he cannot control. But, unusually for Aira, there is a straightforward, albeit completely unexpected solution to his problem. Not one of his best but still a most unusual work, sadly not available in English.