Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cesar Aira and the Golden Rule of Fiction

How I Became a Nun
Cesar Aira

I'm going to preface this review by saying straight off that premier Argentinean author Cesar Aira is too smart for me, How I Became a Nun is too smart for me, and you should probably not listen to a word I have to say regarding this book. Continue reading at your own peril.

About midway through How I Became a Nun, Aira writes, "It's too complicated not to be true...it's the golden rule of fiction." So, apparently, truth is complicated; so is fiction. If A = B and B = C, making A = C, does that mean, as How I Became a Nun seems to argue, that truth is fiction? AI CESAR, WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?

(Sidenote: I'd just like to point out that the above paragraph featured an understanding of math. I'll wait a minute for your applause; a quiet golf clap will do nicely. Those who know me will understand that using any sort of math correctly is quite a feat for me.)

Let's return to this idea of truth being fiction. How I Became a Nun is an "autobiographical novel," which explains a lot. So, basically, it's both true and an utter lie, especially when you consider the fact that the protagonist is six-year-old Cesar, except that sometimes Cesar is a girl. Then a boy. Oh, wait - he's a girl again. There's a point here, about the slippery nature of truth and reality, or perhaps about the importance of imagination, or maybe about the impossibility of true memory, but further contemplation of Aira's meaning regarding the gender of his narrator only pains me.

Anyway, this "autobiographical novel" begins with the narrator's first experience with ice cream, which, unbeknownst to him, has been tainted with cyanide. The narrator then continues to explain the events which occur as a result.

Along the way, it seems as if Aira is intentionally trying to confuse his reader. First, there is the whole gender issue. That aside, he never becomes a nun. (Obviously.) That didn't stop me from wracking my brain trying to think up symbolic associations with nun, and I could only guess that maybe by "nun" he means "writer." Because, you know, nuns are very writer-ish and stuff. And then there's the ending, which I'm going to have to spoil in order to explain. If you are interested, just highlight the text. At the end of the book, the narrator dies. Except we know he doesn't really die, so it must be all symbolic or something. But it hurt to think about that, too. And so there are many elements of the book which are really confusing and would make sense to one who only has the time and inclination to analyze them. Unfortunately, I don't, and I didn't enjoy it enough to want to make the time.

In a nutshell: Pretty confusing; I should probably read it about two more times to wrap my head around it, but quite frankly, I don't want to. How I Became a Nun would be a good text for a graduate course, as it would elicit some good discussion, but it's a bit rough going on one's own.

Bibliolatry Scale: 2 out of 6 stars

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