César Aira

Toward the end of César Aira's hilarious novella El congreso de literatura (Tusquets Editores, 1999) giant blue silkworms threaten to invade and destroy the Venezuelan city of Mérida. At times, the self-described genius geneticist and writer who narrates the story seems to be invoking the obsession of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. But the "César" who narrates his attempts to clone Carlos Fuentes in order to conquer the world is often aware of his own delusions.

Some of the funniest moments in the book involve him sitting by a hotel pool, avoiding all the sessions at the literature conference he has been invited to attend. This is the only book by Aira I've read, so I can't say how much of this humor is typical of his work. Read as an allegory, El congreso de literatura is a sharp critique of the ambitions that ruin so many writers.

At various points in the novella, Aira explains that what is being narrated is a translation of events, a version that might or might not be completely accurate. The book includes a strange prologue that takes place in the coastal district of Macuto outside Caracas, where the protagonist solves a centuries-old mystery, which ends up making him a wealthy man. I spent many weekends on the beaches around Macuto as a child, so the prologue allowed me to revisit a familiar landscape through someone else's eyes.

From what I can tell, one of Aira's novels has been translated into English as The Hare. I imagine I'll be reading more of his books this year.

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