Words Without Borders (an invaluable resource for those interested in literature in translation) just put up a review I wrote of César Aira’s Varamo, “an effervescent morsel best devoured in one sitting, confected of a series of loosely related and generally madcap episodes, and laced with moments of surprising conceptual density.” (Do I quote myself? Very well, then I quote myself.) Here’s a snippet:
The poem at the heart of the novel is produced—spontaneously, accidentally—when our protagonist sits down to write something else: a treatise on his hobby and private passion, provisionally titled How To Embalm Small Mutant Animals. Advised not to be too fastidious about its composition, given that “immediacy is the key to a good style,” Varamo sets about assembling the work, fitting pieces together “in a purely cumulative fashion, without punctuation or divisions,” from the contents of his pocket at the end of the day. These include: notes on his trial-and-error taxidermy, a tally of winning and losing numbers played by his gambling-addicted mother, the key used to decipher communications between the members of a golf club smuggling ring, and the receipt for his mattress, which someone has turned into a menacing “poison-pen letter.”
I have to get back to work on something I’m putting together on Juan José Saer for The Quarterly Conversation, but check back in for a few notes on Aira’s The Seamstress and the Wind, also published by New Directions, and maybe, finally, on Carlos Fuentes’ Aura.