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How I Became a Nun

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  1,164 Ratings  ·  158 Reviews

A sinisterly funny modern-day Through the Looking Glass that begins with cyanide poisoning and ends in strawberry ice cream.

"My story, the story of 'how I became a nun,' began very early in my life; I had just turned six. The beginning is marked by a vivid memory, which I can reconstruct down to the last detail. Before, there is nothing, and after, everything is an extensi
Paperback, 117 pages
Published February 28th 2007 by New Directions (first published 1993)
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The Rings of Saturn by W.G. SebaldLabyrinths by Jorge Luis BorgesJourney to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand CélineLast Evenings on Earth by Roberto BolañoThe Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
Best New Directions Books
35th out of 213 books — 125 voters
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezThe House of the Spirits by Isabel AllendeLike Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Latino/Latina Fiction
147th out of 537 books — 833 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Feb 18, 2015 s.penkevich rated it really liked it
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Mike Puma
I was the sole keeper and mistress of the impossible.

Reality is the playground of the writer with memories and the artifacts of their past as the swings and slides for their games. César Aira’s How I Became a Nun is a humorous jaunt through the life of a 6 year old boy—or girl—also named César Aira as s/he learns the magic of blending fact and fantasy to better understand the undercurrent of magic pulsing through plain reality. Through a lonely pilgrimage of childhood, César experiments with fic
We lost ourselves in a labyrinth that I can reconstruct step by step.

‘How I became a Nun’ introduces us to an exceptional and somewhat intimidating architect who generously makes use of imagination for constructing a unique narrative. Something keeps on happening here; if not in the form of reality then in the infinite space of fiction. Our belief or disbelief in the strange lives this book depicts is our own business only and whether we derive from it a healthy dose of entertainment or an ined
Anthony Vacca
Jul 25, 2016 Anthony Vacca rated it really liked it
César Aira writes a book about a mischievous boy (or girl) named César Aira that begins with terrorists poisoning strawberry ice cream with cyanide and ends a brisk 117 pages later with, well, a LOT of strawberry ice cream. Sandwiched between all the strawberry ice cream, César Aira relates César Aira's formative years as an androgynous imp, terrorizing superstitious nurses, his (or her) prison-bird father and long-suffering mother, a fragile school teacher and a schoolyard friend with an affini ...more
Mike Puma

One likely to piss off some readers. It needn't. It will, it has, but it needn’t.

A precocious little girl (boy), César Aira—not the author, César Aira, or the César Aira who narrates The Literary Conference, but a fictional César Aira who will likely narrate other books by César Aira—recounts the traumatic event which begins her life in a new city before she (he) becomes increasingly distanced from the reality that others participate in. A little mind-fuck of a book given that she (he) narrates

Jan 01, 2015 Cheryl rated it liked it
A boy no a girl no a boy child.
Written as if the grown up self is remembering the events of his life at age 6, and trying not to filter it through the lens of reality.
A child's reality is different. Dreams may be real. Reality may seem dream-like. Dreams and reality may be the same. The experience is the reality, whether it is felt in conventional consciousness or altered states.
Memories are distorted, incomplete and fleeting. They are warped by dreams, and dreams are warped by memories.
All culm
Nov 13, 2015 Cosimo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La bambina che non ero

“Ebbene: la mia memoria si confonde con la radio. O, per meglio dire, io sono la radio. In virtù della perfezione senza difetti della mia memoria, sono la radio di quell'inverno. Non l'apparecchio, il meccanismo, bensì ciò che ne veniva fuori, la trasmissione, il continuum, quello che si trasmetteva sempre, anche quando la spegnevamo, o quando dormivo o ero a scuola. La mia memoria contiene tutto, ma la radio è una memoria che contiene se stessa, e io sono la radio”.

Non son
Aug 28, 2012 Jim rated it really liked it
Shelves: argentina, fiction
No such thing! The "I" of César Aira's How I Became a Nun does not, in the course of this short novel become a nun. All the more so, because the main character morphs incessantly from being a little girl (unnamed) and a little boy named César Aira, who, like the eponymous author, is from Coronel Pringles in the State of Buenos Aires.

But then we are in Aira country, where strange things happen and in turn morph into even stranger ones. The story begins with the narrator of indeterminate gender b
Jeff Jackson
Here's another case where ratings fail.
5 stars for the first half of the novel.
3 stars for the second half.
1 star for the ending.
Which equals...?
A lot of reader turbulence for such a short book.
I'm glad I read this but also glad I read "An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter" and "Ghosts" first. Look forward to more Cesar Aira in the near future.
Jun 10, 2011 Lee rated it liked it
A generous three stars for this intentionally confounded, maybe too readable story about the confusions of early youth. It starts promisingly, with a vivid, clear, clever, simple scene, but soon after devolves into Celinesque delirium (lots of ellipses, I mean), and thereafter rarely accelerates. Representative thematic (not stylistic) sentence is probably: "It was a transformation of reality . . . The transformation could go either way, reality becoming delirium or dream, but the real dream tur ...more
Jul 14, 2010 Jimmy rated it really liked it
"Because reality, the only sphere in which I could have acted, kept withdrawing at the speed of my desire to enter it"

Certainly he is becoming one of my favorite writers. Certainly he writes two books which I have read thus far, both unlike each other and unlike anything else I've read, this one telling the story of a childhood, of a girl who is sometimes the author himself (a man), resembling a child's point of view that is obviously too grown up to be a true child's view. The author himself wh
Apr 08, 2015 Ellie rated it really liked it
How I Became a Nun by César Aira is a short, hallucinatory novel. It seemed to me it's about becoming a writer. The convent Aira enters is that of fiction, where the rules of reality are suspended and the possession of an individual reality is renounced (“So I gave up the idea of imitating him and having a personality dimly intuiting that my only hope of being someone lay in this renunciation”).

Despite the brevity of the book, it felt packed, although I'm not sure with what. I found myself highl
May 08, 2011 jeremy rated it really liked it
Shelves: translation, fiction
one of the more striking characteristics of césar aira's fiction is how much fun it seems he must be having while writing his stories. not limited by the constraint of genre, aira's novellas often move effortlessly between them, without ever an inkling of it seeming forced or contrived. despite their relative brevity, aira's works (though i am unable as yet to determine just how) have an enduring effect far greater than books i thought i enjoyed more than his. this lasting mark may well be testa ...more
Jim Elkins
Aug 05, 2016 Jim Elkins rated it it was amazing
Shelves: argentine
The Unhelpful Lingering Influence of Magic Realism

The first two chapters of this book are absolutely excruciating to read: incredibly well managed, funny, weird, tense, well conceived, and utterly bizarre. The narrator is a boy, but then again, he might be a girl: that's strange enough, because the ambiguity is managed offhandedly -- someone refers to the protagonist as "he," and someone else as "she." (The offhandedness of references to gender outdoes Yann Martel's attempt at the same insoucian
May 12, 2010 Tait rated it it was amazing
Cesar Aira, the child narrator of Cesar Aira's whimsical and weird How I Became a Nun, claims she is the master of the hallucinatory style, a fact that immediately becomes clear when the confusion arises over whether the character is a girl like she describes herself or a boy like all the adult characters describe her. Be warned, this is not a mistranslation like many reviews seem to think, nor a convoluted autobiography despite the parallel of author and character's name. Instead these are a wi ...more
Dec 20, 2014 Alex marked it as to-read
From new friend Tim: "I'm into How I Became a Nun right now, very strange, although just when I'm ready to dismiss him he reveals something further up his sleeve. He's got sleeves within sleeves."

Ha...sleeves within sleeves. Okay, sold.
Mar 23, 2011 Joslyn rated it it was ok
I wanted to like it, I waited for a turning point. There were moments that almost flipped the switch for me. But ultimately I found the author or narrator tiresome, which is saying a lot because it is a very short book.
Multiple of the book reviews on the cover talk of the author's eccentricity, rather than his writing abilities or books, if that tells you anything.
Mar 18, 2015 Zadignose rated it liked it
Shelves: 20th-century
Putting aside... well... the end (which I did not like), this book is sometimes excellent, and often not. The best things the book has going for it are not about the strangeness of the tale, they are:

-The way the author effectively communicates the emotional state of the child with the brutishly ignorant, stubborn dad, embroiled in a pathetic confrontation.
-Seeming real knowledge and interest (even if it's a kind of ironic/critical interest) in the radio dramas that he communicates about well.
Jerry Ghazali
Nov 18, 2014 Jerry Ghazali rated it really liked it
Membaca buku ini memberi pengalaman merasai perspektif seorang kanak-kanak yang jauh berbeza berbanding pengalaman membaca "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" yang aku sendiri akui punya kesukaran untuk mengadaptasi sifat kebudakan kepada citarasa dewasa. "How I Became A Nun ini, aku termasuk pembaca lain turut tercari-cari di mana susuk nun-nya, tapi aku percaya pasti ada sebab dan signifikasinya.

Barangkali César Aira hanya mengambil sifat nun itu sendiri tanpa perlu mematerial
May 10, 2009 Julie rated it really liked it
This is the weirdest book I've ever read in my life. I can definitely see why the Bolaño rave is on the front cover. The back cover summarizes the book as "a modern day 'Through the Looking Glass,' that begins in cyanide poisoning and ends in strawberry ice cream." That's probably about as good as a summary you're going to get. It's also important to mention that although the main character has the same name as the author, it's never clear whether the narrator is male or female (she appears as a ...more
Betsy Robinson
Aug 29, 2015 Betsy Robinson rated it liked it
In the hilarious opening to this translated novella, what the reader believes is a six-year-old boy enrages his father by not liking ice cream. This leads in to one of the best depictions of the inner experience of delirium or insanity I have ever read. We now learn that the boy sees himself as a girl, and through his/her eyes, we experience further cyanide-induced delirium in a hospital populated by a nurse from hell and a prayer-spouting autistic dwarf. And from there, we tumble through the co ...more
Aug 16, 2015 Declan rated it really liked it
One thing leads to another, though what that thing might be is a matter for the chaos of reality, the freedom of imagination and the impact they have on the two receptors: the reader and the writer, the latter of whom, in this case, seems to have an improvisatory approach to story-telling; happy to change direction on an almost whimsical basis as he arrives at junctures which call for either an explanation (something he is very reluctant to provide) or a reconfiguration of the existing mystery ( ...more
May 19, 2009 Gregg rated it it was ok
This was a strange little book. The novel's narrator (who shares the author's name) always refers to him/herself as a female in the book while everyone else in his/her life (parents, teachers) refers to him/her as male. The title really has me perplexed. I don't believe the word "nun" is ever mentioned again after the first sentence of the book.
Nov 22, 2014 Joshua added it
This met all of my expectations coming in - it was funny, bizarre, disgusting, and sad. I was really let down when I read Ghosts, this piece strongly redeems Aira in my eyes and I'm hungry for more.
Elizabeth Pyjov
I didn't connect with the writing style, it's very particular and somehow only glides around the surface, even when talking about insanity and psychological moments which are great topics for thoughtful, meaningful writing.

It's not intelligent enough to be worth it but also not funny enough to be worth it.

Still, there were some cutesy/fun/silly phrases:

"Por algo dicen: lo barato sale caro."

''Yo iba bien predispuesta. Adoraba a mi papá. Veneraba todo lo que viniera de él.'' (I think I remember so
Aug 03, 2009 Muz rated it liked it
An odd story from the point of view of an odd child in Argentina. It begins with the child being poisoned and their father imprisoned for murder. Little Cesar gets through the stay at the hospital in a most cerebral manner. Each day is game and adventure in Cesar's head. The child is considered retarded by many, probably because she/he rarely speaks or interacts with anyone.

*spoiler review follows*
Many reviews have begun with the oddity of the protagonist's gender - as they refer to themself as
Jan 31, 2009 Deana rated it it was amazing
This book was originally written in Spanish, and translated to English. Actually, the English was very good, I wouldn't have known this was the case except that it was mentioned on the back cover.

But I do wonder if it leads to one of my biggest confusions of this book. Is this a boy, or a girl? In real life, César is male. This is obvious from his website and of course the Wikipedia article. His father calls him an awful boy, a horrible son when César does not like the ice cream his father bough
Jun 16, 2015 Susana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
Un niño, una niño, una bicha, que piensa como niño, como adulto, como adolescente, que es Cesar Aíra, personaje y autor. En resumen, el libro más loco que he leído en mi vida, pero no me atrevo a decir si loco bueno o loco malo, que cada quien se asome a los terenos de Cesar Aíra a su propio riesgo.
El final más sorprendente, también.
Ben Loory
Nov 20, 2011 Ben Loory rated it it was ok
heard about aira through an article in the los angeles review of books talking about writers who write straight through without rewriting... i mean without EVER rewriting... like, as an actual decided technique... sounds insane to me, but apparently people do this? javier marias, jesse ball (i think?), and this guy, aira... the article cited aira as working very very slowly, only producing a page or so a day... which, okay, sounds like maybe you could do it... in any case, seemed interesting to ...more
Jan 23, 2016 Ryan rated it it was amazing
UPDATE: 1/2016: How I Became a Nun redux:

UPDATE: 11/2013: I just finished a reread of this book. My thoughts are recorded here:

A little girl named César Aira was poisoned by contaminated strawberry ice cream. Her/his father took revenge on the ice cream vendor by dipping his head in the tub of poisoned ice cream. Only a literary monk could have written How I Became a Nun. The book is ultimately a missal of wicked i
Sep 04, 2007 Emily rated it it was ok
Shelves: borrowed
I randomly found this book in the library and because I'm trying to read more latin american authors I picked it up. It is a very strange read and I put it down a few times. In spite of its slender appearance, it is quite meaty. In the end though, I didn't care for the story, the characters or the fact that none of the questions the author sets up are answered.

What gives with the gender bending?
Is this really supposed to be some sort of memoir? If so, is he on LSD?
What does being a nun have to d
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César Aira (born on February 23, 1949 in Coronel Pringles, Buenos Aires Province) is an Argentine writer and translator, considered by many as one of the leading exponents of Argentine contemporary literature, in spite of his limited public recognition.

He has published over fifty books of stories, novels and essays. Indeed, at least since 1993 a hallmark of his work is an almost frenetic level of
More about César Aira...

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“Each of us is the ultimate expert on the gentleness and understanding we deserve.” 5 likes
“Why is it that drama always starts late? Whereas comedy always seems to have started already.” 4 likes
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