Monday, November 12, 2012

REVIEW: How I Became A Nun, by César Aira

How I Became A Nun, by César Aira. Published 2007 by New Directions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Spanish.

To paraphrase Butters Stotch, how I can review that which is unreviewable?

This book is seriously messed up and crazy, but crazy in a good way. But also, in a crazy way.

The story is about a child named César Aira who experiences a profound tragedy the day that César's father takes César for an ice cream. The scene is a parody of the opening of the opening scene Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, when the protagonist, about to be shot, remembers when "his father took him to discover ice." So it has that allusive quality, slightly otherworldly and abstracted, like it comes from another planet.  It departs from here into some truly bizarre fictional territory.

For one thing, it's pretty clear César has some gender-confusion issues. What's not clear is why, or what we're to make of it. It's not, I'm pretty sure, simply a matter of the character being transgendered. César also has some difficulty fitting in at school though César takes pains to always use terms like "normal" and "ordinary' with respect to others' perceptions of César. One gets the impression that this may not actually be the case, but who knows.

The ending is truly bizarre and no doubt metaphorical. At least, I really hope so. César Aira the writer is often compared to Borges and Marquez. These comparisons are no doubt justified, but he reminds me more of that other Latin American fantasist, Reinaldo Arenas, whose novels are filled with much of the same surrealistic black comedy. Mind you I'm not referring to elves and wizards type fantasy but otherworldly fantasy, fantasy in which the speaker is unable or unwilling to distinguish the real world from that of his or her imagination, if such a distinction can even be drawn.

Aira's books have a real charm to them. You get drawn in despite the insanity, but this book is not for the meek. I love his books but you need a real sense of adventure- and the willingness to give most traditional elements of the novel a wide berth- to take him on.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Mystica said...

This is one book I will have to find a way of reading.

Zibilee said...

Ok, your review intrigued, and now I am wondering about this weird and strangeness. I loved 100 Years of Solitude, and can't imagine anyone doing anything like it, but you've got me hooked with the way you've described this one. Very ensnaring review today, Marie!!

Vasilly said...

After reading your review, I still don't know whether or not I should read this! Maybe I will. I'm really curious.

Anonymous said...

This sounds very interesting. I don't think I've heard of this book before so it looks like an interesting find.

Kathleen said...

This sounds interesting but intimidating as well. I had trouble with the stream of consciousness in The Sound and the Fury so I doubt I would be able to handle this one without a lot of stress!