Book Review: The Divorce by Cesar Aira

Though Cesar Aira is one of Argentina’s most prolific writers, his works have been extensively translated to English, and he has even been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, he isn’t mainstream. And that is for a reason.

Aira’s writing is experimental, confusing, and norm-shattering. While authors like Anne Garreta and the rest of the crew at Oulipo are testing the boundaries of language and writing by placing restricting techniques, Aira has fled in the opposite direction: a total rejection of writing’s restrictive standards. Who said every story needs a plot or an ending? Character-development? What for? His characters enter and leave the scene as mere props for what he is ulterior message. Does this annoy you? It annoys a lot of readers, and fascinates others in-love with reinventing literary fiction.

At first, the Divorce seems to be the story of a middle-aged man who has recently gone through a divorce. He cannot stand to spend Christmas away from his kids so he leaves Rhode Island for his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He sets up into a nice routine of walks, coffee and good food with old friends. Then comes the turning point: while he is having dinner at local restaurant, a young man riding a bicycle ends up completed soaked, where did that water come from? Then, a variety or characters and interconnected stories shoot in all directions, like that red thread joining pictures on police blackboards we see in Hollywood movies.

Or more like a labyrinth designed by Borges and inspired by Dada. Not a coincidence. To set this novella, Aira chose the neighborhood of Palermo Soho, in Buenos Aires, where Borges spent his childhood. And we find one of the sub-plots to be a coming-of-age story, so maybe it is all connected? Aira’s masterful story-telling is creative and mind-bending like Borges’ but leaning into the absurd. While we may try to find meaning in every character or situation written by Borges, a touch of the metaphysical, Aira is not trying to re-create the works of the Master. Overthinking, over-analyzing and dissecting The Divorce is probably futile. It is about the ride, not where the story is trying to take us. And Aira never said it was supposed to be a soul-searching, educational ride, anyways. But, it will still be a wild one.

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