I have chosen The Linden Tree by César Aira for Spanish Lit Month, and like so many books I read for blogging “events”, it has enriched my reading pleasure and knowledge of another country. (I think of José Saramago’s books, both Blindness and Skylight which are deeply memorable to me, or Javier Marias’ most excellent books such as Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, or Fever and Spear, or Thus Bad Begins, or A Heart So White.)
César Aira creates a fictional town of Pringles in Argentina under the leadership of Perón; he is the boy telling us of life in his town, and it could be the first person voice that makes it so resonant of my own childhood, or the innocence of youth some of us are lucky enough to experience.
A child’s father is a model, a mirror, and a hope. More than that, he’s a typical man, a specimen of fully formed, adult humanity. A kind of Adam constructed from all the fragments of the world that the child progressively comes to know…The father is like a big, complex riddle whose answers appear one by one over the course of the child’s life. I would even venture to say that those answers are the instructions for living. “What about people who don’t have a father?” somebody might ask. But to that I can reply: Everyone has a father. (p. 22)
His father is black, his mother is dwarf-like, with glasses so thick they resemble marbles, and these two form the backbone of his understanding. They live in one room of an empty building containing 24 rooms, which they rent. But, since the landlord will not give his father a receipt, his father will not pay the rent, and so there they reside in a stalemate which seems to work for everyone.
Throughout the novella, we glimpse the life of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the decade under which Péron led Argentina.
…anti-Peronism eventually came from the same direction as Peronism, that is, from above. And when the dream of being able to forge one’s destiny evaporated, the result was disillusion, and shame at being so naive. (p. 54)
But, I didn’t find it to be as concerned with politics as I did with the life of a child in a small, poor, Argentinean town. It brought to mind memories of my own youth, for in some ways, childhood fears and dreams are universal.
I felt nostalgic for time itself, which the Plaza’s spatial stories made as unattainable as the sky. I was no longer the small child who had gone with his father to collect linden blossoms, and yet I still was. Something seemed to be within my grasp, and with the right kind of effort, I felt that I might be able to reach out and take hold of it, like a ripe fruit…So I set out to recover the old self. (p. 92)