Alejandro Zambra, Chilean authors, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Granta, Latin American literature, Megan McDowell, novella, Novels, Translated fiction, Translated Literature, Valeria Luiselli, Ways of Going Home
I had been looking forward to read Alejandro Zambra. He is appreciated by his Latin American peers who have created a beachhead in the U.S. market. I heard a few of them at the Brooklyn Book Fair last Fall. Unlike Valeria Luiselli, whose novel I recently reviewed, Mr. Zambra’s command of English is fairly weak, so “Ways of Going Home” is translated by Megan McDowell.
These young novelists are trying to convince U.S. publishers that magic realism is not what is written nor read by most authors and readers in Latin and South America. What I have noticed about this cadre of writers is that their works often contain references to works by their peers. The few works by them that I have read are also partly autobiographical.
This is the case with “Ways of Going Home”. It is a novel about relationships during and after the Pinochet regime in Chile. The principal relationship is between the narrator, an unnamed boy of 9, and Claudia, a 12-year-old neighbor. She has him spy on her uncle Raul but does not tell him why. The boy remains infatuated with her and when they are adults their relationship is reignited. The boy, now an adult novelist, also tries to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife and muse, Eme. The back drop of the novel, is the impact that the Dirty War years had on familiar relationships. Although the author claims the novel is not a love story, its stronger elements are his insights about relationships.
His better known novel is “Bonsai”, which earned him the best novel Chilean Critics Award. Part of “Ways of Going Home” had appeared in Granta. I found this surprising as it is a novella in size. The book was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a very reputable publisher. Given this, I was surprised to find an editorial error. Dialogue is repeated nearly verbatim on pages 64 and 109. It is not stylistic.
Although Mr. Zambra is a capable writer, I felt that he was going through the motions in writing this novella. It is not a bad novel, but I felt that he was turning out a product to please his publisher. It is a decent quick read, but I think he should demand more from himself.