Varamo

Fiction

César Aira
translated by Chris Andrews

Like so many of César Aira’s mesmerizing novels, Varamo springs from a deceptively simple mishap that enables the argentine author to take on some of life’s most intriguing questions through his trademark allegorical wit and humor. Here the titular narrator is a hapless Panamanian government worker who, after being paid with counterfeit money, wanders around the city all night as he frets about what to do next. But that long, odd night also becomes a font of inspiration, and Varamo soon writes what will become the most celebrated masterwork of modern Central American poetry, “The Song of the Virgin Boy.” And even more impressive is the fact that Varamo, at fifty years old, “hadn’t previously written one sole verse, nor had it ever occurred to him to write one.” As he does so well, Aira uses Varamo’s story of overnight success and fame to investigate what it means to be a poet, to be inspired, to be touched by genius. And from yet another viewpoint, he explores what it is that drives readers and critics to construct historical, national, psychological, and aesthetic contexts for works of art.

More Praise…

“The book teems with delightful, off-the-cuff metaphysical speculation.”

— Giles harvey, The New Yorker

“The book is structured around a series of chance encounters, while also giving Aira some asides on broader concepts like the nature of perception, the promises of narrative form, and human thought. ”

Publishers Weekly

“Each element Aira draws our attention to is placed into sharp focus before being discussed in short, entertaining digressions. ”

The National

“The brilliance lies in the way it treads this tightrope without ever revealing the central mystery, and without relaxing the tension.”

The Nation

“In plain but meandering prose, Aira winds his off-kilter narrative into a metafictional loop in which Varamo, who has never written before, accidentally crafts a literary masterpiece.”

Critical Mob

“Aira’s humorous writing style is absurd yet always ironic, simple in logic yet increasingly mystifying in message.”

The Harvard Crimson

“...a sprint through multiple bizarre situations, a few philosophical digressions, a charming light-heartedness, and exquisite sentences.”

The Rumpus

“The eccentricity of plot here is its own pleasure, but the slow, carefully written digressions it enfolds are what make the work such extravagant fun.”

The Coffin Factory

“Aira is a manifestly gifted writer who may find writing all too easy a job.”

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