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An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painterby Cesar Aira
Synopses & Reviews
An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter is the story of a moment in the life of the German artist Johan Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858). Greatly admired as a master landscape painter, he was advised by Alexander von Humboldt to travel West from Europe to record the spectacular landscapes of Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. Rugendas did in fact become one of the best of the 19th-century European painters to venture into Latin America. However this is not a biography of Rugendas. This work of fiction weaves an almost surreal history around the secret objective behind Rugendas' trips to America: to visit Argentina in order to achieve in art the "physiognomic totality" of von Humboldt's scientific vision of the whole. Rugendas is convinced that only in the mysterious vastness of the immense plains will he find true inspiration. A brief and dramatic visit to Mendosa gives him the chance to fulfill his dream. From there he travels straight out onto the pampas, praying for that impossible moment, which would come only at an immense pricean almost monstrously exorbitant price that would ultimately challenge his drawing and force him to create a new way of making art. A strange episode that he could not avoid absorbing savagely into his own body interrupts the trip and irreversibly and explosively marks him for life.
"Part travelogue, part meditation on art, this brief, increasingly riveting fictionalized history by Argentinean author Aira (How I Became a Nun) reinvents German painter Johann Moritz Rugendas's ill-fated 1837 South American journey. Rugendas, a genre painter influenced by naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, first recorded the "exotic" landscape of the New World in the early 1820s and had early success with the illustrated Picturesque Voyage Through Brazil (1827). Aira dwells on Rugendas's disastrous second journey to South America, when the artist had hoped to penetrate the immense plains of Argentina. Accompanied by younger German painter Robert Krause, Rugenda traveled through the Chilean Cordillera, over the Andes and to the border town of Mendoza, before heading east across the Argentinean pampas towards Buenos Aires. But they encounter a vast stretch of the plains devastated by locusts, and with their horses starving, Rugendas heads out by himself in search of verdant land. He is twice hit by lightning, then dragged by his terrified horse. Disfigured and dependent on morphine thereafter to quell paralyzing nervous seizures, Rugendas redoubles his dedication to his art. Aira's documentary achieves a skillful synthesis of fact and imagination." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
An astounding novel from Argentina that is a meditation on the beautiful and the grotesque in nature, the art of landscape painting, and one experience in a man's life that became a lightning rod for inspiration.
About the Author
César Aira (b. 1949) was born in Coronel Pringles, Argentina, in 1949. He has published more than seventy books of fiction and essays.
Chris Andrews has won the TLS Valle Inclán Prize and the PEN Translation Prize for his New Directions translations of Roberto Bolaño. A poet who lives and teaches in Australia, he has translated eight Bolaño books and three novels by César Aira for New Directions.
Author of 2666 and many other acclaimed works, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was born in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain. He has been acclaimed "by far the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time" (Ilan Stavans, The Los Angeles Times), and as "the real thing and the rarest" (Susan Sontag). Among his many prizes are the extremely prestigious Herralde de Novela Award and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos. He was widely considered to be the greatest Latin American writer of his generation. He wrote nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry, before dying in July 2003 at the age of 50.
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