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Shantytown Paperback – November 20, 2013


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (November 20, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811219119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811219112
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #544,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

From the prolific Argentinian author comes this intriguing short novel, originally published in 1991, set in a shantytown in Buenos Aires. At the story’s center is Maxi, a hulking young man from a middle-class family who spends his nights helping the shantytown’s collectors (read scavengers) cart their heavy loads of cardboard and other detritus. Maxi has come under the scrutiny of Inspector Cabezas of the Buenos Aires police, who’s desperate to find out who’s distributing drugs in the shantytown. To get to Maxi, the inspector takes a circuitous route, approaching Maxi’s sister posing as the grieving father of a young murder victim (the dead girl went to the same school as Maxi’s sister). Aira follows these two men, the cop and the kid, as they move through the slums in circles until they finally, and rather explosively, come together. Depending on how you read it, this is either a taut noir crime novel or a searing portrait of Buenos Aires’ poverty-stricken people. Either way, it’s compelling stuff. --David Pitt

Review

“Dense, unpredictable confections delivered in a plain, stealthily lyrical style capable of accommodating his fondness for mixing metaphysics, realism, pulp fiction, and Dadaist incongruities.” (Michael Greenberg - The New York Review of Books)

“Aira is one of the most provocative and idiosyncratic novelists working in Spanish today, and should not be missed.” (Natasha Wimmer - The New York Times)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 26, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The setting is Buenos Aires in the 1990's. The protagonist is Maxi, a large, muscular young man, who is good-natured but rather simple-minded. Maxi spends his mornings at the gym and in the afternoons and evenings he helps, more or less as a Good Samaritan, trash-pickers load their carts and haul them back to Shantytown, where the destitute of Buenos Aires live in shacks along narrow streets brightly lit with pirated electricity.

That set-up is somewhat unusual. What César Aira does with it is more so, as the plot becomes increasingly surreal. Maxi's daily excursions into Shantytown with the trash-pickers attract the notice of a corrupt policeman, who begins to tail him. Others join the plot: Maxi's younger sister and her equally fatuous girlfriend, a Bolivian girl who works as a maid and lives in Shantytown, a mysterious Indian known as "the Pastor" who seemingly has connections to illegal drug trafficking and a fundamentalist evangelical sect, and a crusading celebrity judge with a cadre of elite police officers under her command and a gaggle of television camera crews and chatty news girls who follow in her wake. The novella culminates in an apocalyptic deluge in the midst of Shantytown.

I am a little ambivalent about César Aira, yet I keep reading him. This is the fifth novella of his that I have read in translation. (He has written well over fifty, most of which have not been translated into English.) Every one that I have read is nominally set in Aira's native Argentina, but elements of the fantastic elbow aside most indicia of realism. I normally am not a fan of fantasy. But Aira handles it so well, in such wholly unexpected ways and with a rather droll delivery, that I keep coming back for more.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Have you ever known a book is important, but you know it because of the quotes on the back cover, not because you read it? This is one of those books for me. Readers should know the author is Argentinian, and this book was originally published in Spanish, so this is a translation. It is my understanding that it offers commentary on Argentinian society after the 2001 economic collapse through the telling of a mystery unfolding in a slum. I wouldn't have gotten any of that just from reading. The author is a poet, and I picked this book because I was interested in his lyrical style of narrative. It was interesting to read someone trying a different style, but it hindered my understanding of the plot. The descriptions were never quite real and never quite fantasy, which literary critics call absurdism and metafiction, but for me it felt like being on the outside of a joke that old professors are telling. I gave this three stars so as not to discourage anyone who enjoys very stylized literature and is interested in Argentina.
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By Kevin Keyser on November 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Aira seemingly at his most powerful here. He builds the Shantytown into the main character of his mystery and at the end it feels so much more fulfilling than a weak Deus Ex Machina. The mystery is both deepened and revealed in the shadow of the shantytown and the force that a simple setting could have is set free here. Aira is an incredible gift from Argentina and his works should be required reading.
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Format: Paperback
I am not sure I really got the point. It was readable and the characters were interesting but I think I missed the point.
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