Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Spanish Lit Month: The Planets by Sergio Chejfec

Publisher: Open Letter
Translator: Heather Cleary
Date: June 12, 2012
Format: paperback
Source: GoodReads First Look
Read: for Spanish Lit Month/for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 225
Reading time: three days

Country: Argentina. Chejfec was born in Buenos Aires but in more recent years has lived in Venezuela and his current home, New York City. Though author of over fifteen works, only two of Chejfec's books (The Planets and My Two Worlds) have been published in English, both by Open Letter Press.

From GoodReads: When he reads about a mysterious explosion in the distant countryside, the narrator’s thoughts turn to his disappeared childhood friend, M, who was abducted from his home years ago, during a spasm of political violence in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s. He convinces himself that M must have died in this explosion, and he begins to tell the story of their friendship through a series interconnected vignettes, hoping in this way to reanimate his friend and relive the time they spent together wandering the streets of Buenos Aires.

My review: The Planets is a difficult book to review. It took me a while to get into the writing, but once I did, I enjoyed the author's style. Plot-wise, though, the novel meandered all over the place. Normally I don't particularly mind this, but it seemed like periods of lucid anecdotes and other stories alternated with vague, rather confusing episodes of abstraction and philosophizing. I enjoyed the stories and anecdotes, not so much the rest of the content. I almost perpetually felt like there was some deeper meaning to everything that I was missing.

For the sake of the concrete storytelling, though, let's go with a four-star (enjoyed it) rating. Both the anecdotes of M's and the narrator's lives, as well as the stories told by M and his father, were interesting at, at times, even engrossing when combined with Chejfec's excellent writing style. Parts of the book had an almost magical realist quality that I love in novels, though in this case it exists in the absence of any tangible magic or supernatural elements. This will be a book that I re-read in later years, hopefully to catch some of the more abstract intricacies that I missed on the first read-through.

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