cover image The Little Buddhist Monk & the Proof

The Little Buddhist Monk & the Proof

César Aira, trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2112-2

Aira (Ema the Captive) challenges readers in two deeply strange novellas. In the first, a monk in Korea longs to visit the West. He conspires to turn a chance encounter with a French married couple, a photographer and a cartoonist, into an invitation to join them in Europe. As he leads the two through the city, they slowly slide into melancholy and confusion. The plot takes a very bizarre and abrupt swerve into magical realism, leading to a conclusion far from its premise. In “The Proof,” Marcia is an overweight Argentinian teenager suddenly drawn into the orbit of two abrasive, sexually aggressive punks. She turns down their propositions, but the two young women eventually convince her to at least talk. Their lengthy conversations crowd out all other actions until the last few pages in which shocking, unmotivated violence erupts. In both pieces, characters digress into small anecdotes, creating an intriguing layered narrative. Readers seeking traditional coherence and motivation will be frustrated by Aira’s imaginative refusal of norms, but fans of eccentric, cerebral writers are in for two delightful, unnerving explorations. (May)