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César Aira: Margarita

Our unnamed narrator, presumably based in part on Aira himself, though he is ten years older than Aira, turned eighteen in February 1957. Like Aira, he lives in the Southern Argentinian town of Coronel Pringles and like Aira, plans to go to Buenos Aires to study. His main reason for going to the capital is because of the culture he will find there – libraries, theatres, art galleries and so on.

The book is essentially divided into two parts and the first part is about how the narrator is suddenly terrified at the thought of leaving Coronel Pringles, where his friends and family are, and going off to the big city. We get several pages describing his fears and worries at leaving his home town. He finally finds a solution – writing poetry. He writes thirty-six poems in a few hours. They have a cathartic effect. He never writes poetry again and immediately forgets these ones.

Every summer, he and his family go out to the country where they have a large, sprawling house. They all get together as an extended family, though he has been reducing his participation. As the house is so large, he can find a room well away from the rest and spend the day reading.

We have been wondering who or what Margarita is and now she turns up. She is a bit younger than her narrator. Her mother had a tragic death – we do not get the details – and her father has had a hard time, opposing the authorities. As a result, father and daughter have travelled around the world. She has been schooled in various places, leaning several languages, but remains very close to her father. Father and daughter have a house not far from the narrator and his family.

Politics comes to the fore as our narrator’s eighteenth birthday is also election day. He will not be voting as he has not registered. However, there is considerable discussion about the election and who might who or might not win. Much of the discussion will be over the heads of those that are not Argentinian, including me, as most of the names are not well known outside Argentina.

However, the key event is the relationship between Margarita and our narrator. No, it is not sexual or, if it is, that is not mentioned. However, they become very close and what seems to drive them is a shared love of nature and, even more so, some sort of epiphany brought about by a communion with nature. Yo estaba empezando a vivir, y el encuentro con Margarita me había transportado a la pasión de la vida como sueño [I was starting to live and the meeting with Margarita had transported me to a passion for life as a dream]. In other words, it was a teenage infatuation which was not overtly sexual but transported the couple into a sort of higher plane.

It was never going to last and one day, Margarita and her father have to leave for Europe, without any warning. Our narrator is devastated.

Frankly, this one did not work for me. It is a more recent novel and, I presume, that Aira was delving into his own history – real or imagined – and made a short novel out of it. The two key events – his fear of leaving home, resolved by writing poems and his nature-driven passion for Margarita were certainly not of the same interest as the strange events of his many other novels. One to give a miss.

Publishing history

First published by Mansalva in 2013
No English translation