Closest English equivalent: Junot Diaz, for his delicate weaving of storylines
On a literary scale of 1 (Larsson) to 10 (Proust): somewhere between a 3 and a 7, depending on how you read it
Difficulties in translation: it’s beguiling simplicity
To be just a little too on-the-nose, Chilean author Alejandro Zambra’s novella Bonsai is an exact miniature of an epic love story, the way that a bonsai perfectly imitates what we would expect from a full-grown tree. Zambra opens up many story lines, but immediately cuts them short, drawing the story ever closer to what the narrator describes as “important”, meaning tragic young love, yet all of the abandoned branches end in surprising twists. The result is a deceptively simple, perfectly manicured novel that is Oulipian in its restrictions (if you don’t know what Oulipian is, please let Wikipedia do the ‘splaining).
Zambra begins with a strong base,
In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in reality he was alone some years before the death of her, of Emilia. Let’s say that she is called or was called Emilia and that he is called, was called and continues to be called Julio. Julio and Emilia. In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die. The rest is literature:
and it’s the truth. Emilia dies, Julio does not, and yes it is literature. It is literature in that it can be manipulated to “fit”, the pieces are all there for a reason. Even though Zambra’s characters often try to infiltrate his perfect tragedy with their messy realities, his narrator brings them into line. For a very thorough analysis of all of Zambra’s many metaphorical perfections, please read the Quarterly Conversation’s review, but I highly suggest you read the real thing first. At all of 90pgs it’s hardly longer.
But I would be hard-pressed to come up with another title that is more perfectly “literature”. A magnificent miniature that haunts longer than it reads.
“To echo Zambra’s own words, it is a simple story that is only peculiar in that it works so very well.”
“Bonsai is an appealing miniature, a novella that, despite its brevity, feels airy and full … an enjoyable, pleasantly surprising, and clever read.”
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