The Rise of Alejandro ZambraBy: José Manuel Simián
Chilean novelist Alejandro Zambra is having one of those moments in US literature that have been rare for any Latin American writer not called Roberto Bolaño or Junot Díaz.
Between May and July, the New Yorker published two of his short stories and a glowing profile by James Wood, while the magazine dubbed him "Latin America's New Literary Star." And his third book of fiction, My Documents, was published in March to glowing reviews. As if that weren't enough, his fourth book of fiction, titled Multiple Choice, will be published early next year by Penguin, while Zambra is busy at work on his next project, centered around personal libraries and tentatively titled Cementerios Personales (Personal Cemeteries).
But let's focus on My Documents, his latest output in English, because it's as good a point of entry to Zambra's work as any other: from the title down (a meta pun of sorts on the pre-configured Windows folder on PCs), it invites us to enter his narrative world, a place where the story and its meta-structure are never far apart. A world where we can follow the life of a a gray man through his relation with a PC computer ("My Documents"), or where narrative tension can be created by seemingly random mental states, like a children from a divorced couple dividing the world among things that are "true" or "false," as in a school test. Zambra's prowess is also evident in the fact that even when his fiction is full of references to his home country and its culture, he never fails to grab your attention.
If you want to jump right in, you can read "Camilo," one of the stories of My Documents, in the New Yorker. It's a story about the father-son relationship, broken friendships, soccer and the siblings you never had. And when it comes to an end, far away from the country where it started, you feel both more and less alone.