…and the only prescription is more Zambra.

by Heather Cleary

Open Letter Books just released The Private Lives of Trees, a new novel by Alejandro Zambra, author of the promising work Bonsai – nominated for the Best Translated Book Award of 2008, and reviewed here a few months ago. The Private Lives of Trees was translated by Megan McDowell.

According to the publisher,

The Private Lives of Trees tells the story of a single night: a young professor of literature named Julián is reading to his step-daughter Daniela and nervously waiting for his wife Verónica to return from her art class. Each night, Julián has been improvising a story about trees to tell Daniela before she goes to sleep, and each Sunday he works on a novel about a man tending to his bonsai, but something about this night is different. As Julián becomes increasing concerned that Verónica won’t return, he reflects on their life together in minute detail, and imagines what Daniela—at twenty, at twenty-five, at thirty years old, without a mother—will think of his novel.

The slim volume also got a shout-out on Conversational Reading and, even though neither of us have actually read the whole book yet, we’re both looking forward to it. For those who liked Bonsai, there seem to be several points of convergence between the two works, including the practice of bonsai as a meta-fictional commentary on the creative process and a preoccupation with what exactly it is that we leave behind as our legacy.

(As a side note, I don’t know if I agree with CR‘s assessment of Zambra as a decaffeinated Aira… their approaches are actually pretty divergent, despite similarities in form and subject matter. Zambra is much more measured in the way he develops and doubles back on story lines, whereas Aira is known for the ebullient “huida hacia delante” that pushes him always forward, forward, even at the expense of logic.)

Aside aside, I look forward to reading the book – and don’t have to wait long to do so! It should be in bookstores now/soon, and PEN has posted an excerpt on their site (thanks!) for those of us who just. can’t. wait.

Here’s a taste:

Last week Julián turned thirty years old. The party was a bit odd, marred by the gloominess of the guest of honor. In the same way that some women subtract years from their real age, he sometimes added a few years on and pretended to look at the past with a tinge of bitterness. Lately he has started to think he should have been a dentist or geologist or meteorologist. For now, his actual job seems strange: professor. But his true calling, he thinks now, is to have dandruff.

And here’s the official I-hope-this-repost-doesn’t-break-any-laws-(but-if-it-does-I’m-sorry) disclaimer.

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