New Book: The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra

This is a note to let everyone know that Open Letter has just published The Private Lives of Trees by Bonsai-author Alejandro Zambra. (Amazon lists a July pub date, but Chad states that it’s available now.)

Bonsai remains one of my favorite titles in translation of the past couple years (in fact, I chose it for the June book in my translated fiction book group at The Booksmith), and I’ll definitely make a little time for The Private Lives of Trees sometime this summer.

If you’re unfamiliar with Zambra, Bonsai is pretty much a metafictional, Moibus-strip-like novella, sort of like something a decaffeinated Cesar Aira might come up with. The review in The Quarterly Conversation makes a great introduction:

The first novel by an up-and-coming Chilean poet, Bonsai won Chile’s national critics’ prize for best novel when it was published in 2006, and it is now available in English through Melville House’s series, “The Contemporary Art of the Novella.” Its plot is very basic. Zambra himself described it as “a very simple story whose only peculiarity is that nobody knows how to tell it well.”1 In fact, it is summed up by the very first line: “In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death.” As we read on, the details get filled in. We learn their names (Julio and Emilia), their age (college students), what they do together (read literature before sex), and what happens after they break up (she goes to Madrid and dies, he stays in Chile and raises a bonsai). Yet it perhaps disservices the book to splay the characters out in this way, for they are charming, wistfully funny, and completely believable. Take, for example, the narrator’s remark that, “Julio and Emilia’s peculiarities weren’t only sexual (they did have them), nor emotional (these abounded), but also, so to speak, literary.” The tone, both disarmingly intimate and bemusedly detached, is completely engaging.

At times, the book reads almost like a dream, littered as it is with so many telling and seemingly significant details . . .

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No le compro lo de Aira, Mr. Esposito. La gran influencia de Zambra es, claramente, Proust, reescrito con mucha sutileza en sus dos nouvelles.

Pero si lo pienso bien….”un Aira descafeinado” no es mala definición for starters.

[…] slim volume also got a shout-out on Conversational Reading and, even though neither of us have actually read the whole book yet, […]


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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