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César Aira: La prueba (The Proof)

One of the features of some of César Aira’s work is to start with something that is seemingly more or less mundane and suddenly switch to something radically different and anything but mundane. This is very much the case with this book.

We are initially introduced to Marcia, a sixteen year old girl who lives in the Flores district of Buenos Aires, where Aira moved to when he was eighteen and which is the setting for several of his works. She was blonde, small, chubby, somewhere between child and adult. She is walking through the district when she is approached by two young punk women. One of them immediately asks her if she wants to fuck. Not surprisingly, Marcia is taken aback – we have been told that she is a virgin and does not have a boyfriend. Marcia was one of those girls of her age who could swear that they are victims. Even though they’re not, they could swear it.

One of the women, who introduces herself as Mao (her friend is introduced as Lenin – we never learn their real names) tells Marcia that she loves her and wants to fuck her. (Note on language: the English text uses the word fuck, while the Spanish uses the word coger which, in Latin America but not in Spain, is perhaps the equivalent of the US English word screw and therefore less aggressive than fuck. Coger has no sexual connotations in Spain and merely means get or take.)

Mao tells Marcia that she loves her – love at first sight. The three young women talk and they invite Marcia to a nearby café. Marcia is both shocked and intrigued by them. They go to a local café but Marcia starts to regret this, as it is clear that Mao and Lenin are not going to behave. They refuse to buy anything, even when told they must leave if they do not buy anything.

The three start talking. Marcia says, that for her, the truth is sacred. Mao and Lenin say that it is not so for them. They have a straightforward view on the difference bewteen men and women: women have the wonderful advantage of being able to choose the long or short route. We can turn the world into a stroke of lightning, the blink of an eye. But since we don’t have dicks, we waste our brutality in contemplation.

Marcia has gradually realised that Mao is beautiful and that even Lenin, while not as beautiful, has her own attraction. Indeed she sees the two as opposites. Marcia has bought an ice-cream to placate the café management but Mao and Lenin decide that it is time to go. They talk about love and, in particular, Mao says love has to prove itself. Marcia has no idea what she means.

They decide to go to Disco, a very large supermarket in the neighbourhood. (It really exists.) Once they have entered, Lenin takes a padlock and chain out of her backpack and locks the main door and then goes to the storage at the back and does the same. When challenged by a staff member, Lenin pulls out a knife. And then things really start to happen.

Till they get to the supermarket we have been wondering, as we often do with Aira’s books, where this novel is going. The two punks, who deny that they are punks, seem radically different from the demure Marcia. They are very aggressive yet, at the same time, they maintain that love is all important. Did Mao really fall in love at first sight with Marcia who, we know, is a very ordinary sixteen-year old? Is Marcia going to succumb? She certainly seems fascinated by the two but, at the same time, is somewhat worried about what they are going to do. Of course, as this is Aira, the ending is completely unexpected and completely over the top. As often happens, he leaves us completely unprepared for the ending. It can only be described as amazing. Not perhaps his greatest work but, as always, a novel to shock you out of complacency.

Publishing history

First published by Grupo Editor Latinoamericano in 1992
First published in English by And Other Stories in 2017