“Le Tilleul” (El tilo) and “Esquisses musicales” (Pinceladas musicales), by César Aira, translated from Spanish (Argentina) by Christilla Vasserot, Christian Bourgois, 120 p., € 15, digital € 11, each.
Venturing into the work of César Aira is like taking the metro in Paris and finding yourself, at the end of the journey, on the planet Mars. Each of the Argentinian novelist’s books is indeed like a crazy train that would take the reader to a point impossible to anticipate. With boundless imagination and humor, Aira, admirer of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), is almost as productive as his master: he has published in Argentina a hundred books (of which he is well aware that not all are equal; he also regularly denies them).
In an attempt to adapt to this frantic editorial pace, the Christian Bourgois editions, which already have a dozen Aira titles in their catalog, have decided to publish two to three novels by the author each year, today. one of the most illustrious in Latin America. The Linden and Musical sketches, dating respectively from 2005 and 2019, open the ball. For those who discover Aira’s work, these two short novels offer an introduction that is arguably less confusing than other works would be, because they reveal an intimate side of the writer. Both take place in Coronel Pringles, the city where he was born in 1949, and which, despite its perfectly romantic name, actually appears on the map of Argentina, in the province of Buenos Aires.
Sense of baroque
Throughout these pseudo-autobiographies, Aira tells a part of her childhood and her adolescence, in this village “Where nothing ever happened” ; a city built from scratch in 1882, similar to all the others, where the erection of a simple statue – the first in a hundred years – “Was blowing [aux habitants] that the novelty of one day was paid for with a whole life of idleness “. Only son, raised by an electrician father, fiercely Peronist, and a mother adept at radio dramas, the young Aira – or at least his literary double – grew up in the only room they occupied in a huge ruined inn. . Outside, he observes the omnipresence of rumor, and its formidable ability to transfigure reality to fuel the collective imagination.
Faithful to his sense of the baroque, Aira plunges into the side of the fairy tale, mixed with the fantastic, when he summons the strange specimens that inhabit Coronel Pringles: the monster linden whose flowers were the only ones able to calm his father’s insomnia, or well a dwarf – an assassin on the run, who could have shrunk after having killed in a duel his best friend, to be forgotten by the rest of the population … If he borrows here from the world of Lewis Carroll transposed in Argentina of 1950s and 1960s, Aira describes above all, like nowhere else in her work, the birth of her literary vocation, in a funny and touching way. In LeTilleul, he thus relates how, as a young employee in the office of a chartered accountant, where he developed a passion for a typewriter, he was nourished by the monologues of his boss and his clients. “I could perceive the growth, slow and magnificent, of imaginary constructions in which language, by dint of running empty, opened up to something going far beyond words”, he confides.
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