Posts Tagged ‘Cesar Aira’

the lime tree

This new translation by Chris Andrews 2017

The Lime Tree by César Aira is the first book I received as part of the Asymptote book club – which I subscribed to in December but which anyone can join at any time. I opted for a three-month subscription, and I am looking forward to the next two books – and who knows I may buy another subscription after that.

César Aira is a hugely prolific Argentinian writer – who in my ignorance was completely new to me. Born in 1949 in Coronel Pringles; Buenos Aires Province, where this novella takes place, he produces between two and four novella length books each year, and has previously been a Man Booker International finalist.

The Lime Tree is in some ways an ambiguous work, it could very well be a memoir of the author himself, certainly it feels very personal, the narrator is even the same age. A story of memory it also touches slightly on magical reality in a continuous narrative which Aira is sometimes hard to get a handle on.The Lime Tree is a novel which is hard to review – in that not a huge amount happens – it is highly nuanced and tenderly written.

The novel opens with a glorious image – that of ten thousand lime trees in a plaza in Coronel Pringles.

“My father, who suffered from chronic insomnia, would go to the Plaza with a bag at the beginning of summer to collect the lime’s little flowers, which he then dried and used to make tea that he drank at night, after dinner.”

One tree in particular has grown to monstrous size, and it is from this tree that the narrator remembers his father collecting fallen lime tree flowers to make tea to help with his insomnia. The monster tree is eventually cut down in a violent, political act.

The majority of this novella is a remembrance of childhood in the years just after the Peron regime ended. The father, a government electrician had been Peronist – believing in the middle-class dream it promised. After the regime was toppled the family are on the wrong side of Revolución Libertadora.

“The problem for my father was that after 1955 the march of history began, and he was left behind. Everyone remembered the good old days. What else could they do? Those good old days were all they had. But while they were remembering, things continued to happen, and next time they looked, everything had changed.”

They live simply in a single room in an enormous empty building on the edge of the town. It never occurs to them to make use of any of the other rooms – the little family stick to their small part of the world.

The portrait of both parents is quite extraordinary, the father whose dark skin is an enormous stigma in Coronel Pringles, married to a woman with a more acceptable pale skin, though her deformity makes her an outsider too. His father is quick-tempered his dramatic mother constantly talking, their son’s life is one where the boredom is relieved by gossip and unusual games.

“A child’s father is a model, a mirror, and a hope. more than that, he’s a typical man, a specimen of fully formed, adult humanity. a kind of Adam constructed from all the fragments of the world that the child progressively comes to know. it’s hardly surprising that some parts don’t fit and the whole turns out to be rather mysterious. the father is like a big, complex riddle whose answers appear one by one over the course of the child’s life. I would even venture to say that those answers are our instructions for living.”

This 106-page novella is surprisingly quite dense, there is an elegiac quality to the writing as the narrator recalls a time of social and political change in Coronel Pringles. I feel as if I must have missed some nuances in the text – though I really enjoyed the novel – it might well be a book that benefits from subsequent readings.

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