Ema the Captive: Cesar Aira, Christ Andrews (Translator)

Ema The Captive, César Aira’s second novel, is perhaps closest in style to his popular An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and The Hare
In nineteenth-century Argentina, Ema, a delicate woman of indeterminate origins, is captured by soldiers and taken, along with with her newborn babe, to live as a concubine in a crude fort on the very edges of civilization. The trip is appalling (deprivations and rapes prevail along the way), yet the real story commences once Ema arrives at the fort, where she takes on a succession of lovers among the soldiers and Indians, leading to a brave and grand entrepreneurial experiment. As is usual with Aira’s work, the wonder of the book is in the details of customs, beauty, and language, and the curious, perplexing reality of human nature.

Review
“”Cesar Aira’s body of work is a perfect machine for invention.”” (Maria Moreno – Bomb)

“”Aira’s novel delivers a truly unique contribution to literature.”” (Diego Baez – Booklist)

In this magical little Frisbee of a novel by the prolific Argentine, a kidnapped woman seduces her captors in a fort at the edge of civilization, turning the tables on their power.

” (Boston Globe)

“”Uncanny imagination a la Calvino.”” (Laura Pearson – Chicago Tribune)

“”Aira’s works are slim cabinets of wonder, full of unlikely juxtapositions. His unpredictability is masterful.”” (Rivka Galchen – Harper’s)

“”An elegant, almost ethereal story of one woman’s survival.”” (Kirkus Review)

“This sidelong way of looking at Kafka is uniquely rewarding, eschewing the organizing and narrative principles of biography just as Kafka himself so often eschewed the organizing and narrative principles of fiction.” (Morten Høi Jensen – LA Review of Books)

“His latest book to be translated, Ema the Captive, is not only one of his earliest books―it may be his finest. As such, it also works as a perfect introduction to the Aira universe. The world of Ema is lush and fantastic, but never overbearing; the reader is immersed in a landscape still teetering on the edge of innocence, awash with animals and scents almost impossible to imagine in our modern times. From body-painting to lantern-lit caves to the mating of manatees, the world that Ema―and the lucky reader―inhibit is wondrous and new, even if it’s the imagined past.” (Mark Haber – Lithub)

“”Unsettling and elegant parables.”” (Los Angeles Times)

“”What a gift: to look forward to reading a new Aira novel from New Directions every year for the rest of one’s life.”” (Thomas McGonigle – Los Angeles Times)

“”Aira is firmly in the tradition of Jorge Luis Borges and W. G. Sebald, those great late modernists for whom fiction was a theater of ideas.”” (Mark Doty – Los Angeles times)

“”south America’s answer to Haruki Murikami.”” (Andrew Irvin – Miami Herald)

“”Outlandish B-movies fantasies are all part of the game. His best-known works are nonsensically hysterical. To love Cesar Aira you must have a taste for the absurd, a tolerance for the obscurely philosophical, and willingness to laugh out loud against your better judgement.”” (Marcela Valdes – NPR Books)

“”A Lampoon of our need for narrative. No one today does megafiction like Aira.”” (Robyn Creswell – Paris Review)

“César Aira is the undisputed master of the short philosophical novel―and he manages to churn out a new one every few years. Like all of his books, Ema the Captive is an ideal place to start reading Aira. This story of an Argentinian woman’s time as a captive concubine is a powerful novel worth reading ASAP. ” (Lucas Iberico Lozada – Paste Magazine)

“”Genius. Cesar Aira is a deconstructed Kafka; a compact comprehensible Roberto Bolano obsessed with the frightening nonsense of civilization.”” (Joe Gallagher – Ploughshares)

“”Logic-defying brilliance.”” (Publisher’s Weekly)

“”Irreverent inventiveness…without analogue in contemporary literature.”” (Megan Doll – San Francisco Chronicle)

“”A quixotic chemist.”” (Michael H. Miller – The American Reader)

“”Aira stresses the sublime without falling back on the props of magical realism.”” (Cristopher byrd – The Believer)

“”Cesar Aira i s wild. The laws of gravity do not apply.”” (James S. A. Correy – The Denver Post)

“”One of Argentina’s leading contemporary writers.”” (William Skidelsky – The Guardian)

“”Cesar Aira is the energizer bunny of Latin American literature.”” (Tess Lewis – The Hudson Review)

“”Cesar Aira’s novels are the narrative equivalent of the Exquisite Corpse, that surrealist parlor game in which players add to drawings or stories without knowledge of previous or subsequent additions. Wildly heterogeneous elements are thrown together, and the final result never fails to surprise and amuse. Aira is wacky enough to play the game by himself, but the reader isn’t left out either.”” (The Millions)

“”Everything in Aira has that Mad Scientist feel to it.”” (The Millions)

“”His novels are eccentric clones of reality, where the lights are brighter, the picture is sharper, and everything happens at the speed of thought.”” (Jacob Mikanowski – The Millions)

“”Cesar Aira is Argentina’s greatest living author.”” (Marcela Valdes – The Nation)

“”A distinctive hallucinatory style, which blends together reality and fiction, the waking world and the dream world.”” (Chloe Schama – The New Republic)

“”Aira seems fascinated by the idea of storytelling as invention, invention as improvisation, and improvisation as transgression, as getting away with something.”” (The New York Review of Books)

“Aira’s works are 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 oversteps the bounds of realism, forcing the world to live up to his imagination.”” (Benjamin Lytal – The New York Sun)

“”Exhilarating. Cesar Aira is the Duchamp of Latin American literature. 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)

“”Aira’s cubist eye sees from every angle. the stories in “the Musical Brain” exhibit the continuing narration of Aira’s improvisational mind. his characters – whether comic-strip ruffians, apes, subatomic particles or a version of his boyhood self – enter a shifting and tilting landscape of events that unhinge our temporal existence and render it phantasmagorical yet seemingly everyday in the unfolding. His matter-of-fact approach, accepting even the most outlandish episodes, suspends disbelief and encourages one’s own sense of displacement, of being released from the commonplace. Hail Cesar!”” (Patti Smith – The New York Times Book Review)

“”Aira delivers one surreal unraveling of reality after another that proceeds paradox by paradox into psychic realms.”” (Michael Upchurch – The Seattle Times)

“”Argentine author Cesar Aira is an exquisite miniaturest who toys with avant-garde techniques. His work has drawn comparisons to Vladimir Nabokov and Italo Calvino for its gleeful literary gamesmanship and stories-within-stories.”” (The Wall Street Journal)

“”Cesar Aira’s writing has the freedom of improvisation, but his thought is informed by a coherent if highly personal matrix of concepts.”” (Michael Eaude – Times Literary Supplement)

“”This prolific Argentine writer has inspired a cult following.”” (Scott Esposito – Tin House)

“Ema, the Captive is a gentle meditation on the natural world in its grotesqueness and its beauty, humanity’s place within it, and the effect that human progress has had on both. With his usual incredible attention to detail and in measured, lucid prose, Aira somehow turns this tale into a page-turner, the kind of feat only he could accomplish.” (Justin Souther)

“”I get so absorbed by an Aira novel that upon finishing I don’t remember anything. It’s like having a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.”” (Patti Smith)

“”Once you start reading Aira, you don’t want to stop.”” (Roberto Bolano)

“His novels are eccentric clones of reality, where the lights are brighter, the picture is sharper and everything happens at the speed of thought…. You don’t know where you are or what you are looking at, but the air is full of electricity.” (The Millions)

“Aira’s literature is but a parody of inventiveness, and at its core is an amazing degree of penetrating and unrelenting critical reflexivity.” (Nicolás Guagnini – Artforum)

About the Author

Nominated for a Neustadt Award and shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, César Aira was born in Coronel Pringles, Argentina, in 1949. He has published at least ninety books.

The poet Chris Andrews teaches at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, where he is a member of the Writing and Society Research Center. He has translated books by Roberto Bolaño and César Aira for New Directions.

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