» » Varamo

Download Varamo epub

by Chris Andrews,César Aira

The surprising, magnificent story of a Panamanian government employee who, one day, after a series of troubles, writes the celebrated masterwork of modern Central American poetry.

Unmistakably the work of César Aira, Varamo is about the day in the life of a hapless government employee who, after wandering around all night after being paid by the Ministry in counterfeit money, eventually writes the most celebrated masterwork of modern Central American poetry, The Song of the Virgin Boy. What is odd is that, at fifty years old, Varamo “hadn’t previously written one sole verse, nor had it ever occurred to him to write one.” Among other things, this novella is an ironic allegory of the poet’s vocation and inspiration, the subtlety of artistic genius, and our need to give literature an historic, national, psychological, and aesthetic context. But Aira goes further still ― converting the ironic allegory into a formidable parody of the expectations that all narrative texts generate ― by laying out the pathos of a man who between one night and the following morning is touched by genius. Once again Aira surprises us with his unclassifiable fiction: original and enjoyable, worthy of many a thoughtful chuckle, Varamo invites the reader to become an accomplice in the author’s irresistible game.
Download Varamo epub
ISBN: 0811217418
ISBN13: 978-0811217415
Category: Other
Subcategory: Humanities
Author: Chris Andrews,César Aira
Language: English
Publisher: New Directions; 1 edition (February 22, 2012)
Pages: 89 pages
ePUB size: 1586 kb
FB2 size: 1609 kb
Rating: 4.7
Votes: 235
Other Formats: mbr rtf lrf txt

"The idea was to simulate naturalness, in other words, to make it up as he went along. That might have seemed the easiest thing in the world, the paragon of easiness, but in fact there was nothing more difficult."

This quote from Varamo, by Cesar Aira, suggests the author's own methodology. Aira is said to begin with an idea or two and then just go with it, writing full steam ahead and never looking back, never making revisions or altering what has come before no matter how the story develops. His books are short novels, generally around the same length, full of unpredictability and invention, occasionally interrupted with philosophical or literary musings before bounding off again in any direction whatever. So far, six of his several dozen books have been translated into English and published by New Directions. I've now read all of those.

Varamo is typical Aira in many ways. There seems to be no possible way to get from his point A to his point B, yet you know full well from the start that he will definitely negotiate a path. Varamo begins when a minor civil servant is paid in counterfeit currency, and ends with his creation of a landmark masterpiece of Latin American poetry, though he is no poet and never wrote anything before or afterward. Along the way there are any number of remarkable and wholly unforeseeable twists and turns. Rather than whodunnits, Aira writes "whadeydos". They did what? They what? Then what? Really? Are you kidding me?

It's impossible to describe the innards of an Aira book without revealing the spoilers which constitute the great pleasure of reading them. On the other hand, you can safely highlight some passages which reveal why you would want to:

"He had developed a superstitious fear of the instant, that tiny hole through which all the time available to human beings must pass."

"Varamo had always wondered how people managed to go on living. Now he thought he knew the answer: they could do it because they didn't have to wonder how they would change their counterfeit bills."

"Noise itself made a noise of its own: subtle, doubled over."

"It is possible to have a nightmare without actually having a nightmare ... You only need to find yourself in a certain situation."

"Life simply had too many qualities, not to mention the impossibility of knowing for certain what they were."
There is a scene in VARAMO in which the protagonist, whose name supplies the novel's title, finds himself in a café seated at a table occupied by three book publishers. They're a cynical bunch. One of them encourages the inexperienced Varamo to try his hand at writing:

"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."

The prescription Varamo receives from his tablemates is this: First, write down some story notes. Then, "write out the notes one after another with some commentary in between. Try not to tidy them up too much; immediacy is the key to a good style."

Only a handful of César Aira's fifty-plus novels have been translated into English, which means it's impossible for non-Spanish readers to identify his best work. Yet from the pattern of the available work it's beginning to look like Aira, despite his fecundity and his omnivorous instincts, is following the advice of the publisher in the café: This mad creator writes only one novel -- and VARAMO is such a one.

The book, set in the Panamanian city of Colón in the year 1923, moves through a single evening and night experienced by a timid and lovelorn 50-year-old Panamanian civil servant. As is his common practice, Aira's "notes" are strung into a somewhat disjointed but ever forward-moving "chain of events." Improvisation is the order of the day.

Varamo leaves work after receiving his salary which, he notices with alarm, consists of two counterfeit 100 peso notes. He returns home to care for his paranoid mother. Up in his lab he works on a taxidermy project. Back on the street, on route to his favorite café, he watches an automobile competition known as a "regularity race." He stumbles upon a conspiracy to overthrow the provincial government. He reacquaints himself with a former romantic interest. Reaching the café, he receives tips about how to succeed at the writer's trade. When midnight strikes he finds himself wandering the deserted town square where he comes face to face with a transformative vision, an epiphany at once "interesting and poetic, a `writerly' experience." He understands that from that moment on everything would be "writerly" for him. At the novel's end, Varamo goes home to assemble the bits of this day into a long and soon-to-be renowned poem.

VARANO's narrative "notes" are interrupted periodically by Aira's trademark asides -- discursions that sometimes reach the level of mini-essays. These engage a broad range of disciplines including economics, political science, sociology, psychology, philosophy (especially the mystery of time), and postmodern literary strategies. As always, Aira is fascinated with cycles, reversals, switchbacks, dichotomies (tropical exuberance vs. impeccable formality; abstract vs. concrete; the imaginary vs. the real). Paradoxes and oxymorons abound: "transparent labyrinths"; "he had continued to move within his paralysis"; Varamo was "nostalgic for the present."

The unsuspecting poet Varamo and (I suspect) Aira both savor inconsistency. If, early on, Varamo and Aira observe how "light was what made the world work," they are free later to declare, "Money is what ultimately moves the world." They have their prejudices: Aira, for example, has a special dislike for bureaucrats: "Like nearly all public servants, [Varamo] didn't do anything special to earn his salary." If a certain dryness overcomes Aira's mixed-bag aesthetic, it does not prevent the author from inching close to sentimentality, formally expressed: "The most awkward aspect of individuality was being left out of the shared understandings that create social bonds."

The text of VARAMO, smoothly translated by the veteran Chris Andrews, occupies a mere 124 pages. These pages are not divided into parts or chapters -- all the better to sustain the momentum Aira so values. On the final page Aira indicates the date of the book's completion: 15th of December 1999. Like Varamo, the author was on that day 50 years old.

When designing VARAMO, the publishers corrected a problem some readers (I among them) had with The Seamstress and the Wind, whose text is set in a painfully small font size. To see this, please go to Amazon's main product page for this book, here: Varamo. There are photos uploaded to the Customer Images area to the right of the first reader review on the page. For readability and pleasure, the nod goes to VARAMO.