Briefly, very briefly: I am sold on Zambra.
Even though I delayed reading this one and approached it with some reluctance (that damned publisher’s blurb—but I’ll come back to that), my overall sense of the author and his work was reaffirmed, and if I had to describe Zambra’s writing or storytelling in a single word, it would be gentle, gentle in the best and finest sense of the word. A gentle style—casual, life-affirming, thoughtful, and heartfelt. I’m further obliged to say what I don’t mean by that: I do not mean the South American Mitch Albom—and all I mean by that is, given my limited exposure, Albom goes right for the heartstrings, where Zambra goes for the intellect, and in so doing, reaches the heart. I suspect this is familiar territory to those who’ve read The Private Lives of Trees.Now, about that blurb—as soon as I saw “Pinochet regime” my defenses went up—I really didn’t want to read another novel about the regime’s horrors as Bolaño and Pedro Lemebel had already done that for me, and if I want to know more about that ugly period in Chilean history, I’ll do it through something non-fictional, perhaps The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Chilean History—what matters, in this case, was I’d said No to Pinochet. My mistake—I should have been saying Yes to Zambra. Additionally, while it may or may not be true, “the most important Chilean author since Roberto Bolaño,” is one of those unfortunate marketing decisions that doesn’t inform, or implies more than it states by prompting the comparison of the two authors. If anything, I think Zambra might be better compared with Aira (writers writing about writers, toying with form, minus Aira’s unpredictable tangents) and with Juan Gelman’s quest for understanding of a dictatorship and a period that cost him so dearly. (Yeah, yeah, I know, two Argentine authors). Where Bolaño often seems powered by urgency, Zambra seems more to content to hint or suggest. Another appropriate comparison might be with Javier Marías (writers writing about writers, thematic consideration of memory and the past)—my fear is that Zambra might be considered Marías-lite, given JM’s leave-no-thought-unconsidered approach as opposed to Zambra’s seeming contentment with prompting opportunity to consider (the past, memory, etc.) and moving on leaving those considerations entirely up to the reader’s interest. Where Zambra best exemplifies JM, it seems to me, is in positing a seeming polarity—what is the role of a comfortable, relatively safe young couple who are also parents on the right side of circumstance, but the wrong side of history?
So, a novel within a novel, metafiction-ish, a writer writing about writing (I hear Julie Andrews singing “these are a few of my favorite things” though I’ll spare you what’s becoming the obligatory youtube link). For a real review, consider Kris’ and Dolors' very fine reviews. For a really good time, consider Zambra. For me, I considered 5 stars, and they’re up there—right up there at the top of this review. Right book, right time—nuff said