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César Aira: Las noches de Flores [The Nights of Flores]

The literal translation of the title of this book is Nights of Flowers but the word Flores in the Spanish title clearly refers to the Flores district of Buenos Aires though, no doubt, Aira is well aware of the two meanings. The story centres around a pizza delivery service in the district, called Pizza Show. Initially, there is not much of a real plot. Aira tells the story of the pizza delivery staff, nearly all young males, who deliver pizza on their own motorcycles. Most of them come from relatively well-off families and the money they earn delivering pizza is generally for their own expenses and not for living expenses.

Aira comments on the fact that nearly all the delivery staff is male, feeling that, in this day and age, where women are more and more taking up jobs formerly done by men, it is odd that there are not more women doing this job. However, there are two exceptions. While virtually all the delivery staff deliver on their motorcycles, Aldo and Rosita Peyró deliver on foot. Unlike their colleagues who are nearly all in their teens and early twenties, Aldo and Rosita are retired, However, because of the ongoing recession, they have found their resources somewhat stretched and have taken up pizza delivery to supplement their income. They do not have a motorcycle, so they do the nearby deliveries on foot. We gradually learn more about their role. They act as a calming influence on their younger colleagues, so the owners of Pizza Show welcome them. Many customers particularly appreciate them, particularly the local convent which doubles as an old peoples’ home, with the nuns having pizza after the old people have gone to bed. The pizza delivery staff are at risk from crooks, who phone up, giving what seems like a real address. When the delivery boy arrives, the caller is waiting outside the address and then proceeds to take the motorcycle, pizza and cash. Aldo and Rosario are soon sent on these dubious calls. Because of their age and, more particularly, because they do not have a motorcycle, the crooks do not steal from them.

The other exception to the all-male rule is the phantom female. Many of the delivery boys feel that, among their number, there is a girl disguised as a boy. There is speculation as to who this might be. Walter, who is himself suspected, imagines that it is Diego and tries to find out if this is the case. Walter,, though only fourteen, has become an expert in global positioning systems, and plans to use a GPS to track down Diego but his initial attempt has disastrous consequences. The other key plot line concerns Jonathan. Jonathan has also been a delivery boy but, interestingly enough, no-one can quite remember whether he worked for Pizza Show. What is known is that he did work for Freddo (the Italian for cold), an ice-cream delivery service. Jonathan is kidnapped and held to ransom. His parents cannot begin to afford the ransom. Unfortunately, the news of Jonathan’s kidnapping which was meant to be kept secret, gets out and becomes a cause célèbre throughout the country. Jonathan is eventually found dead, though we learn about his death fairly early on in the novel. Jonathan’s death will hang over the whole novel. Illegal races between the boys, particularly between different companies and particularly between Pizza Show and Freddo are also key, to the consternation of the locals, though police do not seem to do too much about the racing.

However, just when you are thinking that this is a pleasant book but with not much happening, everything changes. Aira has been jumping backward and forward in the chronology. However, the key event is the death of Jonathan and the discovery of his body. Zenón Mamaní Mamaní, a public prosecutor who has got to the top of his profession by hard work, rather than by who he knows, as is the case with many of his colleagues, is appointed to investigate. Several other things happen around that time. Firstly, he receives a long-expected visit from Ricardo Mamaní González (no relation), the “great Bolivian writer”. (We later learn that the ‘great” should be qualified.) Zenón was hoping to spend some time with him but will clearly have to focus on the Jonathan case. Secondly, all on the same stretch of road, there are three events. Zenón’s is involved in an accident with a well-known singer/dancer. No-one is hurt but the cars are damaged and Zenón has to deal with it. Another accident, involving two deaths, occurs as well and the two accident are conflated in the eyes of the press. Thirdly, a police patrolman is attacked by two delivery boys, one of whom looks like Jonathan (this event takes place about half an hour before Jonathan’s body is found.) From then on, all hell breaks loose, with a massive conspiracy involving virtually all of the major characters and completely unexpected. Nevertheless, Aira still manages to fit in a long and fascinating discussion involving Ricardo, Zenón and Zenón’s wife, a sculptress, on the relative merits of modern and conventional art. It is a wonderful, chaotic, exuberant ending to a book which was starting to seem, at least by Aira’s standards, somewhat pedestrian.

Once again, Aira surprises us, astounds us and entertains us with a wonderful book. I continue to be amazed at his ability to produce so many first-class works. This is not, as yet, available in English though, as you can see below, is available is several other languages. Let us hope that New Directions have this on their list of Aira’s books to translate.

Publishing history

First published by Mondadori in 2004
No English translation
First published in French as Les nuits de Flores by Christian Bourgois in 2005
First published in German as Die Nächte von Flores by Claassen in 2009
First published in Portuguese as As noites de Flores by Editora Nova Fronteira in 2006
Also published in Greek