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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Little Buddhist Monk

César Aira

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To purchase The Little Buddhist Monk

Title: The Little Buddhist Monk
Author: César Aira
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 92 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: in The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof - US
El pequeño monje budista - US
The Little Buddhist Monk - UK
in The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof - Canada
Der kleine buddhistische Mönch - Deutschland
El pequeño monje budista - España
  • Spanish title: El pequeño monje budista
  • Translated by Nick Caistor

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely twisted fabulation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 23/6/2015 Eberhard Geisler
The Spectator . 8/4/2017 Louis Amis
Die Zeit . 13/5/2015 Merten Worthmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Bemerkenswert ist die Konsequenz, mit der der Autor seine Sicht auf die Welt vertritt, und bemerkenswert ist weiterhin seine Fähigkeit, anschauliche Details zu geben, ganz wie es auch für gutes traditionelles Erzählen charakteristisch ist." - Eberhard Geisler, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Sometimes it’s as if his imagination outpaces the composition; the bizarre seeps into the mundane, or erupts in a spectacular overload. Often these disturbances are linked to a sexual tension. This seems straightforward enough in The Proof; in The Little Buddhist Monk it is made half-explicit in a denouement that is so dismayingly sad, and so ghastly, yet so satirically piercing, that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry." - Louis Amis, The Spectator

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:

       As so often in the works of César Aira, expectations are subverted in The Little Buddhist Monk. What seems fairly clear turns out to be something entirely different -- often reached via leaps of the imagination that most writers wouldn't dare.
       The short novel begins simply enough, introducing the main character and suggesting his motivation for what might come, the opening lines explaining:

     A little Buddhist monk was anxious to emigrate from his native land, which was none other than Korea. He wanted to go to Europe or America. The project had been incubating in his brain from his early years, almost since infancy, and had colored his entire life.
       He studied foreign cultures and languages -- and so he is prepared at what seems an opportune moment, overhearing a visiting French photographer and his wife looking for someone who speaks French -- which he does. The little Buddhist monk offers his services, and the couple -- Napoleon Chirac and Jacqueline Bloodymary -- is thrilled to take him up on it. The photographer is an artist, specializing in capturing 'spaces'; here in Korea he hopes to find subject-matter at some Korean Buddhist temples. What better guide than an actual Buddhist monk ?
       Sure, that little Buddhist monk sure is very, very little ..... And the ride he takes them on -- he promises the perfect setting for the photographer -- is oddly unreal (and frequently interrupted), the exceptionally diminutive Buddhist monk not able to explain any clearer than:
He shrugged his shoulders. Suggestion, superstition, the "real dreams" of a nation that lived in dreams, who could say ?
       The locale they reach certainly seems promising for Napoleon's purposes -- even if it's not exactly as he pictured it: "He was unsure whether he had won the lottery or was wasting his time".
       Their experiences remain slightly off, leaving the French couple constantly unsure of what exactly they have gotten themselves into, and how to react. Napoleon tries to reason it out reasonably, noting, for example, that:
Often, the lack of understanding between civilizations was nothing more than a gap between the appreciation of a joke.
       Eventually, however, it does dawn on them that something is very off here:
They had been very rash in allowing themselves to be taken so far, but before that they had been even more rash in trusting everything they were seeing and hearing uncritically, without thinking ...
       (As, of course, a reader does too, allowing the writer to do as s/he pleases, and going along quite passively for the ride .....)
       Aira has no problem introducing what amounts to -- and what he even refers to as -- a deus ex machina to rescue the French couple, and reveal what they (and the readers) have been taken in by.
       The story doesn't quite end there -- for the French couple, yes, but the story is a larger one, nicely, poignantly rounded off now that everyone has been let in on a situation that is, in fact, very different from what it originally seemed to be.
       Agreeably absurd, balancing near surreality, yet also so solidly grounded in what seems to be the real, The Little Buddhist Monk is typical of Aira's playful invention, and his craft. A philosophical meditation -- including on art itself -- but ultimately (and somewhat ironically) also touchingly human, it is a charming little read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 April 2017

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The Little Buddhist Monk: 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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© 2017-2024 the complete review

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