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Reading Groups

Constant Flight Forward: César Aira and His Bonkers Books with Samuel Rutter

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Five Sessions 6:30 pm EDT - 8:00 pm EDT September 27 to January 24, 2023

Online via Zoom

The ‘With Books’ option includes all titles required for this group at a 10% discount from our Bookstore.


César Aira might be the most innovative writer to come out of Argentina, and he’s almost definitely the most prolific. At a rate of about two books a year, Aira has been publishing short, madcap novels for the past forty years that blend genres, break rules and surprise the reader. In this reading group, we will discuss the ingenious ways this author manages to write himself out of dead ends, how he combines different styles and traditions to create something new, and how perpetual motion drives these stories forward.

This group will be conversational and participant-driven, and there will be no compulsory extra reading or assumed knowledge of Latin American literature — first-timers and fans alike are more than welcome!

Meeting Details:
Wednesdays, 6:30–8pm ET
9/27, 10/25, 11/29, 12/20, 1/24
Online via Zoom

Session I: How I Became a Nun (117pp) In this “autobiographical” novel, a bright but neurotic six-year-old named César Aira claims to be both a boy and a girl as the circumstances dictate, and maintains an elastic relationship to the truth. An invented narrative of childhood experience that bristles with dramatic humor at each stage of growing up: a first ice cream, school, reading, games, friendship.

Session II: An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (120pp) The story of a moment in the life of the German artist Johan Moritz Rugendas, a master landscape painter advised by Alexander von Humboldt to travel West from Europe to record the spectacular landscapes of Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. But this is not a biography of Rugendas. This work of fiction weaves an almost surreal history around the secret objective behind Rugendas’ trips to America, and serves as a meditation on the beautiful and the grotesque in nature, the art of landscape painting, and one experience in a man’s life that became a lightning rod for inspiration.

Session III: Váramo (89pp) 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 Váramo 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 Váramo, at fifty years old, “hadn’t previously written one sole verse, nor had it ever occurred to him to write one.”

Session IV: The Literary Conference (80pp) César is a translator who’s fallen on hard times due to the global economic downturn; he is also an author, and a mad scientist hell-bent on world domination. On a visit to the beach, he intuitively solves an ancient riddle, finds a pirate’s treasure, and becomes a very wealthy man. Even so, César’s bid for world domination comes first and so he attends a literary conference to be near the man whose clone he hopes will lead an army to victory: the world-renowned Mexican author, Carlos Fuentes.

Session V: The Seamstress & The Wind (132pp) A seamstress who is sewing a wedding dress for the pregnant local art teacher fears that her son, while playing in a big semi truck, has been accidentally kidnapped and driven to Patagonia. Completely unhinged, she calls a local taxi to follow the semi in hot pursuit. When her husband finds out what’s happened, he takes off after wife and child. They race not only to the end of the world, but to adventures in desire – where the wild Southern wind falls in love with the seamstress, and a monster child takes up with the truck driver.

We will read one novella per session. (Please read each one before the corresponding week’s meeting.) Participants should read How I Became a Nun before the first meeting.

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Led By

  • Samuel Rutter

    Samuel Rutter

    Samuel Rutter

    Samuel Rutter is a writer and translator from Melbourne, Australia. His work can be found in Harper’s, the White Review, the Paris Review, and ARTNews, and he is a regular contributor to T magazine. Until very recently, he was the deputy editor of Astra magazine.