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Shantytownby Cesar Aira
César Aira : Literature :: Coen brothers : Cinema
You may never quite know what to expect going into it, but you can always be sure of a singular, engaging, imaginative, quirky, inimitable, and worthwhile experience.
Aira's Shantytown, while a bit unlike his previous works already available in English translation, feels just like any other Aira outing. Although Shantytown is without the genre-shifting that characterizes so many of his novel(la)s, there'd be no mistaking it for the work of another author.
It was so unexpected, and at the same time so horrifyingly opportune, that her whole being was seized by a spasm of terror, and she saw him as a bloodthirsty Stegosaurus hoisting his rocky neck from a lake of oil, on the night of the end of the world.
Set in the Flores district slums of Buenos Aires, Shantytown follows Maxi, a kind yet lubberly fellow who splits his time between working out at the gym and helping the neighborhood scavengers load their collected bounties. As an enigmatic drug, Proxidine, proliferates, Maxi soon finds himself (and his sister) entangled in the squalid district's violence. Add in a few other shady characters, a wayward cop, and a labyrinth of message-laden lighting, and you have yet another impressive work from the prolific Argentine master.
Had he been able to use his gifts for good, he would have achieved great things, but he chose the infernal path of artificial contiguity.
Shantytown is the ninth of Aira's works to be rendered from the Spanish — with five or six dozen more to go. As his renown continues to grow stateside, presumably (and hopefully!) the estimable folks at New Directions will see to it that another two or three titles are forthcoming each year. Aira is undoubtedly one of the most original and refreshing voices coming out of South America, and reading his books provides for a level of sheer enjoyment that may well parallel the fun he seems to have in writing them.
In an old interview with The Quarterly Conversation, translator Chris Andrews described Aira thus:
I think Aira is just as exciting [as Bolaño], and quite different. Aira's style, in most of his books (How I Became a Nun is exceptional) is limpid and simple. The sentences don't have surprising shapes. But the stories take extremely surprising turns, sometimes jumping from one genre into another, leaving just about everyone wondering why...Once you're addicted to Aira, you can be disappointed by a swerve like that, but somehow you prefer being disappointed by him to being satisfied by many other writers.
Synopses & Reviews
Maxi, a middle-class, directionless ox of a young man who helps the trash pickers of Buenos Aires’s shantytown, attracts the attention of a corrupt, trigger-happy policeman who will use anyone — including two innocent teenage girls — to break a drug ring that he believes is operating within the slum. A strange new drug, a brightly lit carousel of a slum, the kindness of strangers, gunplay... no matter how serious the subject matter, and despite Aira’s “fascination with urban violence and the sinister underside of Latin American politics” (The Millions), Shantytown, like all of Aira’s mesmerizing work, is filled with wonder and mad invention.
"Dense, unpredictable confections delivered in a plain, stealthily lyrical style capable of accommodating his fondness for mixing metaphysics, realism, pulp fiction, and Dadaist incongruities." Michael Greenberg
"Aira is one of the most provocative and idiosyncratic novelists working in Spanish today, and should not be missed." The New York Review of Books
At last, a noir novel from the Argentine master of suspense and surprises.
About the Author
César Aira was born in Coronel Pringles, Argentina, in 1949. Wildly popular in Latin America, he has published more than seventy books of short fictions and essays. The poet Chris Andrews has translated many books by Roberto Bolaño and César Aira for New Directions.
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