cover image Yesterday


Juan Emar, trans. from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3157-2

Emar (the pen name of Chilean art critic Álvaro Yáñez Bianchi, 1893-1964) makes his English-language debut with a lucid and absurdist story of a single day. It begins with a man’s public execution, apparently for the crime of telling people about the carnal pleasures he shared with his wife. The beheading is witnessed by the seemingly dispassionate first-person narrator and his own wife. Emar’s elegant prose, precisely translated by McDowell, places intense focus on the minutiae of the day, such as the details of the couple’s meal and sightseeing in San Agustin de Tango, Chile. In a museum, the narrator observes a painter’s use of innumerable shades of green (“The green of silence, the green of murmurings, the green of pandemonium”). Ultimately, the narrator’s thoughts of death, which he’s kept to himself ever since the drop of the guillotine, lead to a shocking and illuminating request of his wife. An introduction by Alejandro Zambra notes how Emar’s interest in the European avant-garde contrasted with Latin American literature’s prevailing realism, thus accounting for his lack of recognition. (Emar also posthumously published a massive Proustian novel called Umbral, which is still only available in Spanish.) This arresting story is a great place to start, and it will leave readers wanting to see more of the author’s odd obsessions. (Apr.)