Saturday, 27 April 2013

Book review: Ways of Going Home

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra, trans. Megan Mcdowell (original Formas de volver a casa)

This is the second memory-related novel I've read recently, and yes, I read this one in the English translation by Megan Mcdowell.

It's a slight book, and it starts off fairly traditionally, as the first-person narration of a young boy who meets an intriguing girl in his neighbourhood. But this is only one level; at another level, another narrator considers his progress in writing the novel of a young boy who meets an intriguing girl in his neighbourhood. And all this is tied up with the dictatorship in Chile and the narrator(s) memory of it.

Both the boy (and his adult self) and the writer are bystanders of Chile's trauma. As he says, "The worst always happened to other people". In this sense, he speaks for the generation growing up during the 1970s and 1980s in the country."While the adults killed or were killed, we drew pictures in a corner. While the country was falling to pieces, we were leaning to talk, to walk, to fold napkins in the shape of boats, of airplanes. While the novel was happening, we played hide-and-seek, we played at disappearing." 

It's an interesting concept and I found the book interesting, as a study of memory literature. But I wasn't gripped by it as a work of fiction, as I was with The Sound of Things Falling. I can't, therefore, wholeheartedly join in with the praise found in the reviews (spoiler alert - be careful with the NY Times one; it basically describes the entire story. This book is not one based on suspense so you may not mind this, however). This book is not one thing or the other, for me. It's not a fully-formed novel, but it's not a memoir either. It slots into place in this blog, but for leisure-time reading - I want more.

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