Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell [in Booklist]
An outstanding trio delivers another fabulous performance. This is international-prize-winning Chilean poet/writer Alejandro Zambra’s 2006 debut novel, English-enabled by lauded Megan McDowell and distinctly embodied by actor Gisela Chípe (who also narrated Zambra’s 2022 novel, Chilean Poet). With a mere 1:16 runtime, a single listen is an easy must, but like its title’s art form – magnificently truncated with meticulous attention – Chípe ensures that the intricately multi-layered narrative achieves lasting resonance.
The opening begins backwards: “In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not. The rest is literature”… and it is literal and literary as well. The pair initially “follar” (f*ck) “by mistake” when they should be studying for a Spanish Grammar II exam. Their “follando” quickly becomes habitual, preceded always by co-reading out loud, from Yukio Mishima, George Perec, Raymond Carver, even Nietzsche. They make it to page 369 of Proust’s Swann’s Way – claims of previous reading having been their first mutual lie – before their follando stops, but telling, inventing, and creating stories ingeniously continues.
Emilia wanders, Julio writes, Emilia dies, Julio survives. Chípe’s polyglot talents effortlessly, distinctly transform Zambra’s pruned text into mellifluous accomplishment.
Published: 2006 (Spain), 2022 (United States)