Saturday, December 07, 2013

Varamo - César Aira

A chain of event, started with a Government employee in the city of Colon in Panama, receiving two counterfeit 100 Peso notes from the ministry for payment, resulting in a creation of one of the most acclaimed piece of literary work  in the history of Central America. The protagonist, Varamo, leaves the office with the two counterfeit bills, returning home to his half mad, paranoid mother, work in his lab for a short time ( embalming frogs) , setting out to his favorite cafe, encountering a conspiracy to seize power, few other trivialities, sharing the table with three  publishers (of pirated books) who advise him to write a book, before where he is subjected to hallucinatory visions in the dark solitary night of Colon streets, returning home by midnight to create one of the masterpieces of the Central America's literary history , "The Song of the Virgin Boy" ( a name summarizes his story). At the outset a series of disjointed actions, insignificant and trivial at times, building up to an extra ordinary result.  A trigger in the form of counterfeit bills, a result of a literary masterwork, in the middle a series of regular daily chain of events.  Aira's allegory and his clever plot maneuver of unrelated events over an evening might have its own significance. 

Events are set in a Panamanian City of Colon in the year 1923. Varamo, 50 year old civil servant, living with his Chinese mother, not married. His love life is nothing to talk about. A small glimpse of which is part of the events that unfold during the evening. The initiation to write, probably would have come from the meeting with the publishers at the Cafe. It seems, Colon is the center of the thriving black market fiction. One of the editors asserts , "In barbaric lands like the Americas, writers produce their best work before learning the craft, and nine times out of ten, their first book was their strongest, as well as being, in general, the only one they wrote". They nudge him to write offering him unheard of money ( equal to his monthly salary) . "It shouldn't take more than three or four  minutes to fill up a page, if you concentrate. That's twenty pages an hour. In four or five hours you could finish off a decent little book".  From then every thing seems to be working in favour of his writing. He wanted to write about embalming ( frogs legs) . His walk in the streets of Colon until midnight. "For him everything was writerly now". The rest is history , as they say.

There aren't many books available in English by Cesar Aira until recently ( he has written more than 50 books in Spanish and only 7 of them are available in English now). This being my first entry into the world of his writing, I was perplexed and a bit confused in the end. My attempt to find rationale and precipitate my impression on what was going on here was very inconclusive. I reached out to a few who are familiar with his style and writing, and I was told to take it easy and they prescribed the remedy in the form of more books of Aira. The advise to me was,not  to fathom the depth of one book, as one starts to appreciate and understand this writer over a collective of his fictional works. Now, that will be my next course of action. There is a lot of discussion about his style of writing. The experimental , avant-garde fiction, with the concept of 'fleeing forward' improvisation which this book supposed to be an example. The

An allegory on the writers inspiration and creation. Where does the trigger of artistic creativity come from, and between the trigger and the result, what affects the creative process. I think Aira, reflects our conscience to this aspect in a clever articulation of events. I will need to acquaint with his writing for comprehending this little piece of work.

Varamo  ( 2002)

César Aira ( translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews in 2012)

New Direction Books

89 Pages
Wordswithoutborders , NY Times, The Millions,


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

More books by Aira - that is also my vote.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

Thanks.. I did place an order for the 3 book boxed edition "Three novels by Cesar Aira"..