Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, September 29, 2012

César Aira, _Ghosts_

WHO REMEMBERS THOSE wonderful little Avon paperbacks of the South American Boom years--those ubiquitous copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, Doña Flor and Her Two Husbands, Infante's Inferno, and so many others, with their surreal cover paintings in jungle-bloom colors?  I don't even know whether the imprint is still active--seems like years since I've seen one anywhere but in used book stores. But what a debt we owe it.

All praise as well to New Directions for making it possible for us monolingual norteños to have some idea of the riches of contemporary Latin American writing--Bolaño, Evelio's The Armies which I read just a few weeks ago, and this, translated by the apparently indefatigable Chris Andrews, a Gregory Rabassa de nos jours.

Ghosts inhabits the liminal.  Set at twilight on New Year's Eve (when one year is ending and another beginning), at a nearly-finished apartment building (about to cease being a construction site and become a place of residence), with Chilean characters working in Argentina, some recently engaged or pregnant (not yet but about to become wives, mothers), Ghosts is above all about the gauzy, permeable borderlands between the living and the dead.

Patri, a teenaged girl, gradually absorbs the largest part of our attention, as she is trying to decide whether she wants to be in the world of the living or the world of the dead. As a perfectly ordinary family New Year's celebration circulates around her, with food, drink, conversation, eventually fireworks, we realize the momentous goings-on that can occupy a young person's mind while nothing is going on around her. Patri's choice took me by surprise, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.