December 11, 2023 | Rome, Italy

How I Became a Nun

By |2018-03-21T18:28:05+01:00January 1st, 2008|Recent Reviews|

By By César Aria, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews

New Directions, 1993 (2007). 114 pages.

Don’t be fooled by that Aira boy… I always tell you the true, the theck, the trove.” A schoolteacher utters these jabberwocky lines midway through Aira’s deliriously fictional reminiscence. Aira’s small-town Rosario, Argentina boy comes to be after he slurps cyanide-laced strawberry ice cream and watches his enraged father murder the vendor. Trauma is fattened up in the hospital and soon the whole story slumbers into a vivid six-year-old’s refracting Oz.

Aira cheerfully swaps gender (“Master César” on one page becomes “mistress of the impossible” on another), morphing into a Buñuel puppet who welcomes “the tissue of deeply strange events that is my life.” But Aira isn’t a magical realist. He’s is a razor-sharp literalist within his own construct, a lion king in a hall of mirrors. “Knowledge is never monolithic. We know things in part.” Truth in part. Memory in part. Hospital nurses who can’t tell left from right, up from down, and call on rosary-nattering dwarfs to heal the sick. What little boy would be a doll-hankering “little girl completely stupefied by her physical state” except one who can make good use of the whim. His contradictions are so perfect they’re foolproof: “His dad, being a woman, couldn’t get a proper job.”

Reading Aria is, he’ll tell you, like dying from ice cream. Can’t be classified, wrote Roberto Bolaño of Aira. Right he is.

About the Author:

The Book Staff represents a series of authors who review books for the magazine on a regular basis.