cover image The Linden Tree

The Linden Tree

César Aira, trans. from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. New Directions, $13.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1908-2

Aira (Dinner) reveals little of substance in this haphazard “true account” of his upbringing in Pringles, Argentina. “I was born in 1949, at the climax of the Perónist regime,” Aira writes; he describes how the iconic (and infamous) presidency of Juan Perón roiled his parents’ marriage. Aira’s father (“a staunch Perónist”) develops a deep ambivalence about life after Perón’s government falls. His mother, conversely, becomes an anti-Perónist given to “defamatory and truly delirious” rants. Aira offers clues about the underlying causes of his parents’ supposedly political disagreement (including his father’s rumored affair), but is more focused on presenting an array of charming but minimally engaging anecdotes. Moths hang from the kitchen ceiling “like little Chinese lanterns,” and a statue with a bared breast is erected in the town plaza. Fans of Aira may gain occasional insight into his writerly preoccupations from these discursions, but the seemingly random jumps between recollections prevent an edifying portrait of the novelist as a young man from emerging. While explaining his inclusion of a favored game, Aira wonders, “who can say what might turn out to be important?” This novella cannot overcome his disinclination to make decisions about such crucial questions. (Apr.)