I am on a speculation site right now for potential Nobel Prize winners this coming week. There’s some chatter about Latin America (especially South America) this time around. I don’t think that’s going to happen because I would expect a writer from sub-Saharan Africa or east Asia/south Asia this time, and most likely a woman to win. But so it goes. Among the names is Cesar Aira.
He is from Argentina and has been writing and publishing for about 30 years or so and has published an insane number of books. They’re mostly about 100 pages, are highly localized to a set of characters and settings, and are all over the place in terms of their specific story, content, style, and characters. So it’s hard to fully express what makes a Cesar Aira novel a Cesar Aira novel, but not so hard to know you’re reading one when you’re reading one. He’s a lot like Roberto Bolano in that respect.
Now normally you get one novel for your money, but this time it’s two! And given how short they are and how many he’s written, it should be two at a time.
So, here you go:
First: The Little Buddhist monk
The cover of this book is kind of gross. It’s a closeup of dark brown oily fries with the name of the book charred onto a few of them. The book itself is really funny, and a little weird.
The set up is that there is a Korean Buddhist monk who meets a French couple traveling the far east and he befriends them and wants them to help him with a project he’s been working on.
But’s never quite that simple. In a lot of ways, the monk is having a hard time specializing, and so he’s becoming a bit of a dilettante, trying out a little of everything, but never really getting too much into any of them. And unlike, say a Trappist monk where the labor is the goal, getting lost in an occupation, the monk is supposed to be looking for a kind of loss of self or selflessness in his life. So this is a real problem. It’s a funny and potential commentary on Aira himself as a writer. How can someone who’s written 80 very different little books be trusted to be an expert on anything, and here he is showing this through the life of a Buddhist monk.
This book I didn’t like as much as the first. It’s got a weird shopping center cover with the title written in a ketchupy font.
This book starts with the profound question “Wannafuck?” as its opening line. And it more or less goes from there. The main character, sixteen year old Marcia, is accosted by two Lesbian punks who solicit her first for sex, then for badness and delinquency, and finally for violence and murder. It’s light book full of dark themes as the violence and crime in the book is just too absurd to worry too much about. I didn’t think it was as strong as the first book, and it’s one of the lesser of the Aira’s I’ve read, but it’s hard to be too mad at a little book that didn’t ask too much from you.