Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fiction from the Netherlands and Argentina

I've finished the next two books in on the translation shortlist.

Gerbrand Bakker's The Twin is easy to read and a quiet book, even pastoral. The protagonist has led a narrow life on a farm in the Netherlands, stifled by his father and forced into a life of farming by the early death of his twin brother. As the book opens, his father is dying, and the protagonist begins to assert independence for the first time in his life. If this were Hollywood, there would be some fumbling sex, a scene in which he violently sweeps momentos off a shelf, and a tear-jerking moment of reconciliation with his father. But this isn't Hollywood. Instead, it's a much quieter journey, foregrounded by the natural world around him. It's not a book I would have ever picked up based on the plot, but it was a very satisfying book.

Cesar Aira's Ghosts is really a novella. It follows a family that lives in a high-rise condo building as it is being constructed - but over the span of just one day, new year's eve. The book veers from prosaic descriptions of the goings-on in the building to philosophical expositions. The "ghosts" in question don't draw on any archetypical ghosts I'm familiar with; they float there naked, mostly. This book wasn't difficult to read, but I didn't find it riveting, either. (And if the description leads you to expect magical realism, it's not.) While it wasn't my cup of tea, if it sounds interesting to you, I strongly recommend not reading any other descriptions of it; most of them give away the entire plot up to the very last words.

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