Saturday 7 September 2019

Book Review: Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra, Translated by Megan McDowell

Ways of Going Home Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra,
Translated by Megan McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short novel of 138 pages moves about - between a writer and his own life and the life of his characters in his writing , between the present time and the past - a past in Chile during and after the Pinochet years. It represents not just the voice of the post revolution generation but of todays Latin American writers from the generation post Marquez. First there is the story of the young nameless boy and Claudia, the girl he adores, and her Uncle Raul, the boys neighbour. Then there is the storyline of the nameless writer, who is writing their story and his ex Eme. Both stories coalesce off the paper as the four chapters alternate between the writer's fiction and his reality. But this is also a novel about writing, about telling a story, with initially fictional scenes being based on real ones, and real ones reutilised in the fiction. There is a melange of the real and the fictional, a doubling of everything, a redrafting of everything just as any writer would when working on his novel.

It has some memorable passages as this author's style is very natural, smooth in translation (which won the English PEN Award in 2013) the reader feeling she is listening to the man remember. For example,

"I prefer writing to having written"

"That's what we grw up believing, that the novel belonged t oour parents. We cursed them, and also took refuge in their shadows, relieved. While the adults killed or were killed, we drew pictures in the corner. While the country was falling to pieces, we were learning to talk, to walk to fold napkins in the shape of boats, of airplanes. While the novel was happening, we played hide-and-seek, we played at disappearing." Beautifuly poignant ambiguity there!

"To read is to cover one's face. And to write is to show it."

"I want a quiet, simple life. A life with walks in the park"

And finally as he ponders a quote attributed to Tim O'Brien 'What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end', he writes "We remember the sounds of images.......We ought to simply describe those sounds, those stains on memory"

ashramblings verdict 4* Thanks to who ever it was who originally recommended this writer to me

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