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How I Became a Nunby Cesar Aira
One of the more striking characteristics of César Aira's fiction is how much fun it seems he must be having while writing his stories. Not limited by the constraints of genre, Aira's novellas often move effortlessly between them, without ever an inkling of it seeming forced or contrived. Despite their relative brevity, Aira's works (though I am unable as yet to determine just how) have an enduring effect far greater than books I thought I enjoyed more than his. This lasting mark may well be testament to Aira's unrestrained storytelling style, as well as his allegiance to originality.
How I Became a Nun is the tale of an aberrant, somewhat precocious six-year-old boy named César Aira (who refers to himself as a girl). After a tainted ice cream cone leads to illness and hospitalization, young César's reality begins to blend with fantasy. As compulsion and curiosity take over, César must learn to navigate the hardships of both the first grade and the world around him (her).
Aira's works are neither linear narratives nor surreal simply for the sake of it. He, instead, crafts works of great imagination that seem to have been written, above all, for the love of a good story itself. The variety and creativity of his short works is simply bewildering. As his dozens of books slowly make their way into translation, I imagine the immense talent of this prodigious Argentinean will become more widely recognized.
Synopses & Reviews
So starts Cesar Aira's astounding "autobiographical" novel. Intense and perfect, this invented narrative of childhood experience bristles with dramatic humor at each stage of growing up: a first ice cream, school, reading, games, friendship. The novel begins in Aira's hometown, Coronel Pringles. As self-awareness grows, the story rushes forward in a torrent of anecdotes which transform a world of uneventful happiness into something else: the anecdote becomes adventure, and adventure, fable, and then legend. Between memory and oblivion, reality and fiction, Cesar Aira's retains childhood's main treasures: the reality of fable and the delirium of invention. A few days after his fiftieth birthday, Aira noticed the thin rim of the moon, visible despite the rising sun. When his wife explained the phenomenon to him he was shocked that for fifty years he had known nothing about "something so obvious, so visible." This epiphany led him to write . With a subtle and melancholic sense of humor he reflects on his failures, on the meaning of life and the importance of literature.
"A six-year-old child sickened by eating cyanide-contaminated ice cream makes for agonies and picaresque adventures from Argentine author Aira (Adventures in the Life of a Landscape Painter), who draws on a wave of real food-supply poisonings in Latin America during the 1950s for this slim autobiographical novel. Newly moved from a Buenos Aires suburb to a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in the southern city of Rosario, the young César is taken for a first ice cream by his father. Despite its rancid taste, the father forces César to eat it, and then, in an escalating standoff, beats the vendor to death. Subsequent chapters in this elliptical, disjointed work trace César's hallucinatory stint in the hospital (where a rich fantasy life takes hold for good) while the father languishes in prison, and César's painful, delayed transition into first grade. Eventually, César makes friends with a rich boy, Arturito, and a game of dressup goes spectacularly awry, but the die is cast: César, who often cannot distinguish between dream and reality, will be a writer. Completed in 1989, Aira's near-memoir is a foreboding fable of life and art." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Completed in 1989, Aira's near-memoir is a foreboding fable of life and art. An utter faith in his fabulous tales is all this author can offer...such marvelous fantasies. Douglas Messerli, Otis College of Art & Design
A sinisterly funny modern-day that begins with cyanide poisoning and ends in strawberry ice cream.
About the Author
A prolific novelist, playwright, essayist and translator, César Aira (b. 1949, Argentina) has taught at the University of Buenos Aires and at the University of Rosario in Argentina, and has translated and edited books from France, England, Italy, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Chris Andrews was born in Newcastle, Australia, in 1962. He teaches in the Language Department of the University of Melbourne. In 2005, his translation of Roberto Bolaño's Distant Star won the Vallé-Inclan Prize.
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