César Aira: Las curas milagrosas del Dr. Aira (The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira)
I have now read over twenty of Aira’s works and quite a few of them have a complex plot and some often fairly tortuous ideas behind them. This one, however, I think has a particularly complex plot and some very tortuous ideas behind it, even by Aira’s standards.
Our hero is Dr Aira. He is, apparently, a medical doctor or is he? Later in the book, he is handed a medical report on a potential patient. He would have liked to take a peek, just out of curiosity, though he would not have understood anything because surely every entry was in medical jargon, which was inaccessible to him. In other words, he is perhaps merely the quack he is accused of being by others.
Dr Aira is married but we do not meet his wife. He is fifty years old and a miracle healer by profession. He is, by his own admittance, a very solitary person. He suffers from somnambulism. It wasn’t all that unusual for him to wake up on unknown streets, which he actually knew quite well because all of them were the same. (Like characters in other Aira books, he lives in the Flores district of Buenos Aires.) At times, when out wandering, he will suddenly stop and stare into space or, as in the opening part of this book, talk to a tree.
When he writes, he prefers to leave his house and work in a café. He has strong view about the role of humans on the planet: Our species has reached a point of such dominance on the planet that it no longer has to confront any serious threat, and it seems that all we can do is continue to live, enjoying what we can without having to risk anything.
He is prone to committing what he calls blunders: small infamies, acts of stinginess, accounting errors, cowardice; in other words, anything that feeds retrospective and private shame. They seem mainly to affect him and him alone but, nevertheless, he is acutely aware of them and concerned about them.
Dr Aira is a miracle healer. What that entails and how many people he has cured is not – deliberately – clear. Aira (both the author and the doctor) does not seem too concerned with the mechanics of the operation. Dr Aira will mull over them later but does not go too much into detail, except for the final operation. We do later learn what inspired him to become a miracle healer.
What we also know is that Dr. Actyn, chief of medicine at Piñero Hospital, and his colleagues, were trying to persecute him and show him up. While out on one of his walks, he hears an ambulance siren. He feels that it is going round him in circles and coming ever nearer. It is.
The ambulance stops in front of him and the doctors in the ambulance say that they were looking for him, as they have a dying man whom only he can heal. He does get into the ambulance with them, and it sets off at a furious pace. However, though they insist that he intervene, he suspects a trick and resists and, eventually, they let him out.
Soon after this, he receives a large inheritance and decides to spend the next ten months focussing on his writing. He plans to publish weekly instalments – in a quasi-encyclopedic form – of his ideas, though he spends much time considering what format to use.
Some time later, he is contacted by the family of a very rich man – the genius behind the family firm – who is dying of cancer. They want him to cure him. While he offers to do it free of charge, given their fabulous wealth, he is hoping for a very generous payment if he succeeds. It is here, where we follow his process which can perhaps be summed up by saying that his method is to rearrange the universe.
It is not entirely clear to me exactly what is going on this novel, though that is not unusual for Aira. The basic plot, it seems to me, is that Dr Aira is a charlatan (is this a bit of self-deprecation, with Dr Aira the faith healer being compared to César Aira the writer?) Indeed, he makes a definite comparison with Aira the healer and writing: The entire operation of the Cure had the perfect coherence of the plausible, like a novel (again).
As for the miracle cure, we are seeing it from Dr Aira’s perspective, so we see him as the righteous healer and Dr Actyn and Co as the evil enemy, but objective realty may be different.
Aira, as usual, throws out some strange ideas, not ones he necessarily believes in but ones that he thinks are worth considering or, perhaps, imagining. He gives us a clue at the end as to both novel writing and his ideas, namely that, to the outsider they may seem incomprehensible, perhaps even insane, but to the insider – the writer, the healer – there is a logical consistency not apparent to the rest of us, which to some degree sums up Aira’s work.
First published by Simurg in 1998
First published in English by New Directions in 2012
Translated by Katherine Silver