The book is structured around a series of chance encounters, while also giving Aira some asides on broader concepts like the nature of perception, the promises of narrative form, and human thought.—Chris Andrews
Like so many of César Aira’s mesmerizing novels, Varamo springs from a deceptively simple mishap that enables the argentine author to take on some of life’s most intriguing questions through his trademark allegorical wit and humor. Here the titular narrator is a hapless Panamanian government worker who, after being paid with counterfeit money, wanders around the city all night as he frets about what to do next. But that long, odd night also becomes a font of inspiration, and Varamo soon writes what will become the most celebrated masterwork of modern Central American poetry, “The Song of the Virgin Boy.” And even more impressive is the fact that Varamo, at fifty years old, “hadn’t previously written one sole verse, nor had it ever occurred to him to write one.” As he does so well, Aira uses Varamo’s story of overnight success and fame to investigate what it means to be a poet, to be inspired, to be touched by genius. And from yet another viewpoint, he explores what it is that drives readers and critics to construct historical, national, psychological, and aesthetic contexts for works of art.