Juan Emar

Juan Emar

Juan Emar is the pen name of Chilean writer, painter, and art critic Álvaro Yáñez Bianchi. Born in Chile in 1893, he was a strong advocate of the artistic avant-garde of the 1920s and 30s, and his critical writings helped revolutionize the art scene in his country. Under-appreciated in his time, he is now considered to be one of the most important 20th-century Latin American writers.


Fiction by Juan Emar

Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell

In the city of San Agustín de Tango, the banal is hard to tell from the bizarre. In a single day, a man is guillotined for preaching the intellectual pleasures of sex; an ostrich in a zoo, reversing roles, devours a lion; and a man, while urinating, goes bungee jumping through time itself—and manages to escape. Or does he? Witness the weird machinery of Yesterday, where the Chilean master Juan Emar deploys irony, digression, and giddy repetitions to ratchet up narrative tension again and again and again, in this thrilling whirlwind of the ecstatically unexpected—all wed to the happiest marriage of any novel, ever.…
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Pablo Neruda…called him “our Kafka” and wrote, “My comrade Juan Emar will now get what here we are not stingy with: posthumous respect.” His prediction seems to have been made a few decades early, but, well, better late acclaim than never. Yesterday is a weird and charming little book, less a predictor of the magical realism to come than a sui generis detour.
—Hanson O’haver, The Nation
Yesterday is not, strictly speaking, an exercise in stream of consciousness, though Emar wrings his hands as much as Joyce or Woolf over the mind’s inner-workings. Emar crams this particular day-in-the-life with spectacles, multicourse meals, visits to friends and family, and philosophical daydreams. The mind is at its most receptive, its most imaginative, he suggests, when at leisure… Emar reminds us that neither in books nor in life do we ever have direct access to reality, but that this can serve as a liberating restraint, an invitation to create.
—William Repass, Full Stop
Yesterday—in the original, and in Megan McDowell’s witty, formal translation—is one of the sweetest, funniest novels around. It’s a portrait of a happy marriage; a bizarre daylong picaresque; and a story that resists all logical comprehension.
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