Asymptote Journal is very well-known in the literary world for being devoted to and promoting world literature in English, an endeavour that had me mesmerised from the very first time I stumbled upon their website. Very recently, they launched an incredibly interesting book club to which I could honestly not resist subscribing to (it is currently open for US and UK only as far as I’m concerned, but they will probably expand to other countries in the future) – every month you receive a newly released translated literature book from independent publishers, something which sounds right up my alley.
César Aira’s The Lime Tree is the first (December’s) book club pick and a book I had heard absolutely nothing about before receiving it. Aira is an incredibly prolific Argentinian author, having published around 80 books and being one of the most lauded Latin American authors – facts which made me ashamed for not having heard of him before but very happy to have finally come into contact with his writing. According to the book’s jacket, Aira’s writing ‘is marked by extreme eccentricity and innovation, as well as an aesthetic restlessness and a playful spirit’.
The Lime Tree is a very short novella (or novelita as it is called at the back of the book – such an adorable term!) of 106 pages and yet it is so hard to describe it accurately. While not mentioned anywhere as an autobiographical work, it is evident that many elements of the author’s life have been transplanted in his narration, the place (Pringles, Argentina), age and first-person narration being some indicative features.
One of the reasons why this book is so hard to describe is probably because there is no specific plot to it. Instead, the novelita consists of the author/narrator’s thoughts, memories and reminiscences, the point of departure of which is the plethora of lime trees the narrator sees at the Plaza in his hometown, Pringles, which remind him of his father and how he used to gather the lime tree’s leaves or flowers in order to make tea which helped with his insomnia. From that point on, the narrator tells us about his family – his dark-skinned father with his supposed ‘other family’, his deformed but imposing mother and his childhood years which were shaped by the Peronist political movement.
Babies, by their very nature, are in a sense little monsters; I might have turned out to be a dwarf or to have needed spectacles […] I was human plasma, unpredictable and protean, like Peronism.
I truly enjoyed how the author managed to give so much cultural, social and political information about the time his story took place without resorting to actual history recitations or mere recounting of historical facts. Aira very skillfully intertwines his story with Argentina’s history and context (perhaps because the country’s history is so deeply embedded in the author’s personal story) that even people like me who knew nothing about Peronism prior to this book, leave enriched and satisfied.
Aira’s writing style is very pleasant to read. Perhaps due to the nature of this particular novelita the prose was a bit dense at parts and the narrator’s frequent stream-of-consciousness method might not entice all readers, but I’m sure the short length of this book will make up for its shortcomings. Although there were fragments of magical realism here, I would love to explore other works by this author where magical realism is even more prominent. Certainly, one out of 80 books of Aira’s oeuvre is nothing sort of representative, and I am more than excited to read more of his books in the near future.
How could we have changed so much, if everything was still the same? It all seemed too much the same, in fact. I felt nostalgic for time itself, which the Plaza’s spatial stories made as unattainable as the sky. I was no longer the small child who had gone with his father to collect lime blossom, and yet I still was. Something seemed to be within my grasp, and with the right kind of effort, I felt that I might be able to reach out and take a hold of it, like a ripe fruit… so I set out to recover that old self.
I’m very looking forward to January’s book club pick! 🙂