Sunday, August 1

The Divorce by César Aira review: have you ever had the feeling that you have been cheated on? | Fiction


Velocity and perplexity characterize the work of Argentine author César Aira, who was born in 1949 and has tended to publish at least a couple of books a year for almost four decades. In novels like The literary conference, which implies an attempt to clone the author Carlos Fuentes, or How I became a nun, in which the stories of a child are mixed with a reality that is even stranger, the meta-literary antics unfold with the charm of turning the pages.

Aira has become better known in English over the past decade, thanks in part to Roberto Bolaño’s impact on translation, which fueled demand for other Latin American writers admired by Bolaño. His eulogy – “Once you’ve started reading Aira, you don’t want to stop” – follows Aira, appearing once again in her latest book to be translated into English, The divorce (It was published in Spanish in 2010).

Its narrator, Kent, is a recently divorced literary academic who leaves the United States to spend Christmas in Buenos Aires. He is in a sidewalk cafe with Leticia, a “talented video artist,” when the cafe owner, raising his awning after heavy rains, drenches an unsuspecting cyclist, Enrique, with runoff, just as he reached the Coffee looking for Leticia, whom she has not seen “since the day they met, which was also the day that marked the end of her childhood.”

Thus begins a furry dog ​​story that combines short scenes focused on Kent with longer segments recounting increasingly savage episodes from Enrique’s past. In the first episode, he and Leticia are teenagers who escape a school fire by fleeing towards a miniature model of the school, also on fire. Later, Enrique’s mother survives a firearms attack, before we see how, at the age of 14, she took over 4,000 employees in the processing plant of a pharmaceutical company (“the largest in South America”), a feat which leads his former employees on a hunt, decades later, for a legendary manual that he apparently used to make decisions.

Patti Smith’s friendly introduction tells us how she once ran into Aira at a literary festival and became enthusiastic about her novel. An episode in the life of a landscaper, only to realize later, upon reading more of his work, that “the qualities he admired so much … were commonplace in his process: just something he does.” It’s intended as a tribute to Aira’s “highly flexible, kaleidoscopic mind,” but you could also read her narrative habits in another way, as a compulsive accumulation of event after event. The titular divorce ends up seeming less to do with Kent’s marriage, a bit of a narrative spark about which we are ultimately told next to nothing, than the strange, pressureless relationship between word and meaning that is a side effect of narrative generosity. of Aira. .

In the end I felt strangely ungrateful; after all, what more could you want? And yet it is curious: fiction is nothing more than a magic trick, sure, but we have to feel that there is something at stake anyway.

The divorce by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews, is published by And Other Stories (£ 8.99). To support the guardian order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply


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