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Marcel Proust, Lydia Davis
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Bonsai: A Novel - Alejandro Zambra, Carolina De Robertis



Even better after the second reading.


The world is of tantalic inspiration.

So begins Macedonio Fernandez’s fantastic story Tantalia. Zambra makes reference to it. I encourage readers to get a copy and read it—bizarre and an incredible complement to this novella (complement in its older sense of something which completes). The He and She of Tantalia could easily be Julio and Emilia of this story. Gazmuri, an author/character in this novella, could easily be Fernandez, if one is inclined. The stories fit together like complimentary angles. Fernandez’s story informs this one. Zambra’s story attaches as if integral. Where MF baffles, AZ seems to illuminate, entertain, bedazzle, and bedazzle with a healthy dose of humor which wasn’t as apparent (if at all) on the first read). Get them both. Read them both. 4 pages from MF, 83 from AZ—quickly accomplished and so well worth the time. I’m tempted to revise my rating, but I’m retaining it as my initial feeling. Do yourself a favor, read them both.


Tantalia may be found in The Book of Fantasy which the translator of Zambra’s novella translates literally as Anthology of Fantastic Literature—don’t waste time hunting around for that title.




Original review:


Isn’t it just the way—your GR friends start reading whoppers, so what do you do, you start chewing through some of the slimmest novellas you own. Well, that might not be what you do, but it seems to be what I’m doing. Going against the grain. So here I am. My Read list well ahead of where I need to be for meeting my year’s goal. Building a cushion against the time I start my own next whopper. And even that, I screw up (I recently got an email about a new group, which I was checking out on my phone [man, I hate having a phone smarter than I am] so I clicked Join—looking forward to reading Infinite Jest with the folks I expected to join or had already joined, only to then realize I’d joined a group to read Gravity’s Rainbow—Gravity’s Freakin’ Rainbow! It’s cool; I need to get it moved from TBR to Read—all’s good). But, and here’s the thing I like, the randomness of what’s next for me—that is, the randomness of what I read and when I read it. So, a long-winded approach to a review of Bonsai.


I recently read and loved The Private Lives of Trees because the author’s Bonsai was constantly being recommended by this site and amazon—all well and good that, except that Bonsai was Out of Print or Out of Stock or something, and the only copies available were used and $30 a throw. Ya gotta love suggestions like that. So, now I was determined: Get Bonsai and read it. Lo! Behold! It’s being reissued in a movie tie-in, less expensive edition—all’s right with the world! I started it almost immediately upon its arrival and have now read it twice.


Bonsai begins with what appears as the beginning of a framed story—it leaves no doubt where the story will go, only how it will get there. Then the line:


In the story of Emilia and Julio, in any case, there are more omissions than lies, and     fewer omissions than truths of the kind that are called absolute and that tend to be uncomfortable.

Followed on the next page with the passage:


The relationship between Emilia and Julio was riddled with truths, with intimate revelations that rapidly established a complicity that they wanted to understand as definitive. This, then, is a light story that turns heavy. This is the story of two students who are enthusiasts of truth, of scattering sentences that seem true, of smoking eternal cigarettes, and of closing themselves into the intense complacency of those who think they are better, purer than others, than that immense and contemptible group known as the others.

Ultimately, the novella is about fiction, lies, reading, truth, characters who do and don’t matter, overlapping stories that may or may not be mentioned in one text or another, Literature, and love’s beginnings and endings. All shoved into the briefest of 83 pages. I liked this one. A lot. It gets 4 rather than 5 stars because I preferred The Private Lives of Trees. Totally arbitrary. Absurdist, like the novel. Worth spending the better part of a psychiatrist’s hour with.