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by César Aira ; translated by Nick Caistor

Pub Date: May 30th, 2017
Publisher: New Directions

A pair of eerie, minimalist novellas by the gifted Argentinean writer Aira (Ema the Captive, 2016, etc.).

Shades of The Twilight Zone and Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic blood baths linger over these two unnerving novellas, neither of which is anything like the other. In The Little Buddhist Monk, Aira introduces us to a diminutive but endlessly curious Korean monk who dreams of going to Europe or America. If there is a central motif to the work, it is a meditation on the nature of dreams. “Practical people say that dreams serve no purpose; but they can’t deny that at least they allow one to dream,” the monk muses, later remembering, “It costs nothing to dream.” In due course, the monk meets French photographer Napoleon Chirac and his cartoonist wife, Jacqueline Bloodymary, becoming their guide to the country’s shrines. It should come as no surprise to Aira’s readers that the monk, his dreams, and indeed his very reality turn out to be not what they appear. The follow-up novella, The Proof, finds Aira back in more familiar territory with a story set in Buenos Aires, but its conclusion is no less shocking. The story seems designed to shock, as two punk-rock lesbians brace timid Marcia in the street with a startling query, “Wannafuck?” In trying to figure out “Mao” and “Lenin,” Marcia finds herself enraptured in a dangerous game, as the two challenge and taunt her bourgeois assumptions about the world. “You are the nihilist,” Mao tells Marcia. “Could you really spend your time talking crap, worried about the kind of things that happen here, in this hamburger microcosm? All of this is accidental, nothing more than the springboard to launch us back to what is important.” By the time Marcia joins Mao and Lenin in launching a violent attack on a supermarket, she may or may not be experiencing Stockholm syndrome, but there’s no doubt she is fundamentally changed.

Two unnerving, challenging stories about identity sparked by subtle delights and surprising ends.