Alejandro Zambra
Carolina de Robertis, Translator

(Melville House)
"Let's say that she is called or was called Emilia and that he is called, was called, and continues to be called Julio. Julio and Emilia."

She is described as "coarse and thin." He wears black. The both say they have read Proust's In Search of Lost Time. They are both lying. They fall in love. "When Julio fell in love with Emilia all the pleasure and suffering previous to the pleasure and suffering that Emilia brought him turned into simple imitations of true pleasure and suffering."

Are they happy? "Julio and Emilia managed to merge into a single kind of mass."

    They were, in short, happy. There is no doubt about that.

Is it this wandering, not unaffecting style --- or is it perhaps Julio's name --- that brings to mind that great, wandering film Jules and Jim?

§     §     §

Gazmuri is a semi-famous novelist of Santiago. He asks Julio if he will transcribe a novel for him. Ultimately, he hires someone else but Julio writes the novel anyway, in four "Colon" notebooks, and calls it Bonsai.

Gazmuri asks Julio:

    Do you write novels, those novels with short chapters, forty pages long, that are in fashion?

    Julio: No. And he adds, to have something to say: Would you recommend that I write novels?

    What kind of question is that? I'm not recommending anything to you, I don't recommend anything to anyone. Do you think I met with you in this café to give you advice?

All this may or may not have something to do with the book under review. Or, maybe it has to do with Bonsai, a novel being written in this novel under review. Or perhaps it's another novel entirely, called Spares, since Bonsai --- the novel starring in this novel --- is never published at all, just whipped up by Julio and sent off to Madrid to a certain María who may or may not be important.

As your faithful critic, I would like to recommend that you buy this Bonsai --- the real one --- so you can immerse yourself in the latest in paradoxical, postmodernist style.

For example, here's the old writer, looking at the young novelist Julio:

    An old man needs a lot of blood. And you have lots of blood. Perhaps the only thing you've got to spare, now that I'm getting a good look at you, is blood.

Julio, who "wakes at night to observe the bonsai."

    In between, he dreams of something like a desert or a beach, a place with sand, where three people look toward the sun or toward the sky, as if they were on vacation or as if they'd died unawares while sunbathing.

"Suddenly a purple bear appears. A very large bear that slowly, heavily approaches the bodies and with the same slowness starts to walk around them, until it has completed a circle."

Emilia kills herself jumping in front of a train in the Metro in Madrid. "She dies and he remains alone," the author tells us.

    In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die. The rest is literature.

--- Lolita Lark
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