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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


César Aira

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To purchase Varamo

Title: Varamo
Author: César Aira
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Varamo - US
Varamo - US (Spanish)
Varamo - UK
Varamo - Canada
Varamo - India
Varamo - France
Die nächtliche Erleuchtung des Staatsdieners Varamo - Deutschland
Varamo - España
  • Spanish title: Varamo
  • Translated by Chris Andrews

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Our Assessment:

A- : playful, clever

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 21/4/2006 Hans-Martin Gauger
Harvard Crimson . 6/3/2012 Gökcan Demirkazık
The National . 12/5/2012 Scott Esposito
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 26/8/2006 Leopold Federmaier
The NY Times Book Rev. . 18/3/2012 Ben Ratliff
The New Yorker . 12/3/2012 .
Die Welt . 10/6/2006 .
World Lit. Today . Spring/2003 Will H. Corral

  Review Consensus:


  From the Reviews:
  • "Es ist kurz, heiter, humorig witzig, mild satirisch, geistreich, voller realistischer Phantasie, kultiviert, gut gemacht -- und eben nicht nur "gemacht", sondern auch auf schöne Weise naiv, denn dies ist ja die Schwierigkeit: Intelligenz allein genügt nicht, vielleicht ist sie nicht einmal notwendige Bedingung." - Hans-Martin Gauger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "When the methodical and impersonal tone of Varamo is coupled with these extraordinary phenomena, hilarity ensues in an uncanny way. Aira’s humorous writing style is absurd yet always ironic, simple in logic yet increasingly mystifying in message." - Gökcan Demirkazık, Harvard Crimson

  • "Perhaps it is because Aira stays so close to Varamo's daily routine that this is one of the most carefully observed of his novels. Due credit must be paid to the translator, Chris Andrews, for putting Aira's quietly comic locutions into a well-tended English that maintains the compactness and freshness of the original. Each element Aira draws our attention to is placed into sharp focus before being discussed in short, entertaining digressions. (...) Once again Aira has given us a series of memorable, highly interpretable images held together by gossamer strings of meaning. The book is one of the best to have been translated so far, one of his most easily consumed and longest to digest." - Scott Esposito, The National

  • "Varamo, like all the Aira books in translation, is charming and infuriating, built of plain prose that blooms without warning into carbuncular visions; they’re filled with invented games, preposterous theories delivered in reasonable tones, portentous subplots that later appear to have no importance and metafictional shifts only partly rewarding the attention they demand. Relationships are wooden and dialogue is farcical. But there is something modestly cool going on underneath here, something to do with content following form." - Ben Ratliff, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Aira's prose can be slapdash, but the book teems with delightful, off-the-cuff metaphysical speculation" - The New Yorker

  • "Man kann geradezu den Kopf verlieren: vor lauter Schütteln darüber, wie wild es Aira mit der Literaturgeschichte treibt. Das Ergebnis ist Literaturliteratur auf höchstem Niveau." - Die Welt

  • "Prolific, self-plagiarizing, humorous, and a vastly capable prose writer, Aira liberates morality and intimacy as the basic forms of freedom. His is a case in which it is not bothersome to read in a review all that one should know about him, since it would be even more bothersome not to see it repeated. In Varamo, as in his previous novels, he seems chronically unsatisfied, and this is particularly evident throughout the first half of the book, in the frequent queries by the narrator about the status of fiction, narrative voice (Varamo hears voices), logocentrism, intentionality, literary criticism, and the relation between profit motives and literature." - Will H. Corral, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Varamo of the title is a low-level employee at a government ministry in Colón, Panama. Varamo describes one unusual day (and night) in his life, in 1923. The reader is told at the outset that it was on this fateful day that Varamo penned, in one sitting, the classic poem, El canto del Niño Virgen. The book takes its time getting to the actual unlikely creative act, however, focussed more on what came before than the writing (or the poem) itself.
       The conditions do not, initially, suggest poetic inspiration: the day begins with Varamo having quite different concerns. The story begins with Varamo picking up his wages at the end of the workday, and finding himself immediately in a nightmarish catch-22: the two hundred-peso bills he receives are clearly counterfeit. and he can't spend or exchange them -- or accuse the government of giving him counterfeit money. (In fact, apparently no one has ever heard of counterfeit money in Panama, making for an entirely new category of experience.)
       In typical Aira fashion, the story unfolds in oddly varied but connected episodic bits and pieces, a twisting flow of narrative, the character (and reader) carried along by each new event and encounter. So, for example, there is some digression about Varamo's hobby: taxidermy. Self-taught, his trial-and-error methods have met with only limited success. His current project is to pose a fish playing a piano -- surely something that would attract buyers. But it's quite late in the game that he realises that fish are anatomically not suited to playing on keyboards .....
       There's also Varamo's diminutive mother -- which also raises quite a few questions about identity. In keeping with the seamless progression mom winds up cooking the prepared fish for dinner (unsurprisingly, it does not taste good ...). Varamo also learns about an elaborate and odd car-race, where the winner is the driver who can drive most consistently at a set speed.
       Varamo gets pulled into (and flees from) a variety of near-surreal events; always he both seems and feels like he doesn't quite get it all. Eventually he finds himself with three publishers at a café who are always looking for local literature to publish. Varamo mentions that he has been wanting to write a book for a while -- not the poem that would make him famous, but rather a guide to do-it-yourself small-animal taxidermy. The publishers are enthusiastic (about the title, at least), and even offer him ... two hundred pesos (exactly the amount he needs to replace) -- incentive enough for him to accept. The rest, as they say, is history.
       A very short novel, Varamo is nevertheless both action- and idea-packed. Indeed, it is very much a book of ideas, with literary smoke and mirrors that raise questions focussed specifically on (literary) form and creation. The omniscient narrator also notes that, while nominally a novel, the book is a work of literary history (in tracing -- albeit in unusual fashion -- the origins of a classic poem (one which, of course, doesn't actually exist -- i.e. remains a pure piece of imagination, left for each reader to conceive of as they wish)). There are many literary allusions (such as the Góngora family which Varamo finds himself in the midst of) and literary games, and Aira has and offers good fun with them.
       Enjoyable and clever, Varamo is certainly recommended.

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Varamo: Reviews: César Aira: Other books by César Aira under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author César Aira was born in 1949.

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