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Varamo

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3.72  ·  Rating details ·  943 ratings  ·  137 reviews
The surprising, magnificent story of a Panamanian government employee who, one day, after a series of troubles, writes the celebrated masterwork of modern Central American poetry.

Unmistakably the work of César Aira, Varamo is about the day in the life of a hapless government employee who, after wandering around all night after being paid by the Ministry in counterfeit mone
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Paperback, 89 pages
Published February 2012 by New Directions (first published 1999)
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3.72  · 
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 ·  943 ratings  ·  137 reviews


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Glenn Russell



César Aira thrives on improvisation. His eighty or so novellas have been written, so the Argentine author recounts in an interview, one page at a time without rewriting or revision– then he move on to the next page - in other words, like a modern day Scheherazade, César makes it up as he goes along.

Which prompts the question: what kind of stories are we talking about here? Answer: whimsical, quirky, idiosyncratic, flighty. And heady, as if a few drops of Ludwig Wittgenstein or Jacques Derrida w
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Mike Puma
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fewer than the few

Tough call on this one—a very tough call.

It’s become commonplace for me to begin or end these meager reviews with the caution: Not for everyone. Or, a recommendation to “the few.” The same caveat applies to Varamo; this is not fiction for the casual reader. I know, I know, arrogant, but there it is. For those who are story-dependent, this would not be my first suggestion…or third…or one hundredth. Better, perhaps, is to recommend this one to those who like books about books or writing—FICTION a

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Jonfaith
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
The stars were an overwhelming surprise. But since each scene was linked to the one that that had gone before, he continued to see the dominoes and dishes, twinkling among the constellations.

Came home last pondering when to begin the traditional chili verde, thought better of rushing in, fearful angels and all that. My better half was knitting and watching a PBS documentary on puffer fish and how the males make these ornate designs of ocean floor to attract potential mates. I ruminated on that a
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Aravindakshan Narasimhan
Absolute 5 star.. A review following soon...

An update on that following soon thingy!

So, the reviewer, by using the general themes of this novella, decided to write a fictional story involving the creation of God, Holy Mother, Angels, Pre-God beings, and Human beings. It should have been a story of how the God of Death becomes a traitor by joining the Pre-God beings or Satans and gets caught by God, and the ensuing fatal decision of imparting a quality to Human beings, which was till then absent,
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Jim
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: argentina, fiction
Most traditional literature is somewhat like a series of nested matryoshka dolls: You come back out the way you go in. In the process, all unresolved issues are neatly resolved (one hopes), and one has experienced a real 19th century experience.

Well, that doesn't seem to be happening any more, except perhaps in some whodunits. It certainly isn't happening in the slim novels of César Aira, an Argentinean from Coronel Pringles who writes the way a Roomba vacuum cleaner robot cleans: He just moves
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Patty
Mar 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Based on the reviews I've read, and I even did my best to read a few in spanish, I'm going to say that this little expirement was a failure. I will also say that even fans of Aira's books, who read it because they really like his other books, may think that this is a subpar novel for him. Readers who haven't read any of his books should start elsewhere.

Even so, I'm giving it 5 stars, because I think it's that good. This is a very complicated, very slim, novel about abstraction and critism. Many
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Lee
Feb 18, 2012 marked it as sampled
Shelves: put-down-for-now
I read the first fifty pages and had no interest in the ploy or writing or character or derivative metafictional pale fire stuff. Aira has written about how the time period during which a book is written should be studied and he time stamps his books at the end -- I suppose there's some exploration of those ideas here, but I just couldn't hang with it, couldn't pay attention, couldn't care less. As Bolano said, I too find Aira mostly boring -- a lot of that is in the approach, the whimsicality, ...more
Richard Thompson
Varamo plays with ideas of causation, creation, contradiction, time, reality, fantasy, history, criticism and art in a way that makes fun of itself and its characters on a variety of levels. The book purports to reconstruct the night on which a famous poem was written, relying solely on the content of the poem itself. The narrator claims that every detail of the actual history is embedded in the poem, but sequence and time are mixed up, which we learn at the end was due to Varamo's use of a code ...more
Ben Loory
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
god i love this guy. nothing is anything. it's all just movement, and a twirl.
Pickle Farmer
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For full review click here: http://bit.ly/GPzqMF This latest little recently translated gem by Cesar Aira is only 89 pages long but packs in more fanciful ideas and crazy images than you would find in most 200+ page novels. This book took me about an hour to read (maybe a little less) and by the end I felt like I’d just woken up from a really trippy, weird food inspired dream.

The basic plot of the book concerns the titular character, Varamo, a 1920′s government employee in Panama. In the opening
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Joshua
May 30, 2015 added it
It all started with Ghosts - my first encounter with Aira. We got off on the wrong foot and I can be a moody reader. The Nun book was great, and I liked Literary Conference. This takes me back to that first day when I read and was disappointed, and a little afraid that I was just following the trend. I've still got hopes for Landscape Artist, but otherwise I'm ready to hang it up.
Natalie Hamilton
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: translations
A wonderful little book about a day in the life of a clerk who concludes his day by writing a famous work of poetry. Beautifully written, philosophical, metafictional. One of Aira's more accessible works, and a fascinating meditation on artistic inspiration.
Mercedé Khodadadi مرسده خدادادی
Not bad. Difficult reading sometimes. Wierd in some place. Was that fish a symbol? I don't get what the story wanted to say.
Anita
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
sometimes you read a book and you're like this is definitely like some Kafka-eqsque post-Dada something-like-that allegory for something but I have literally no idea what, and if I were smart then I would love this book for expertly lampooning a political system or historical event, but I'm not really, so it's just kind of a nonsensical story but I do love the idea of a fish taxidermied (verb?) to look like it is playing the piano, and also the idea of an epic poem written overnight

And then you
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Tara
No one writes like César Aira. His small novellas – usually under a hundred pages – contain line-after-line of sublime prose. Each is a tiny, carefully articulated, universe. Like a miniature diorama you can lose yourself in for hours. The plots, on the other hand, appear relatively straight-forward. Deceptively so, in my opinion.

Varamo is “a third-class clerk” working for the Panamanian government. In the year 1923, during the ten- to twelve-hours described in this novel, he will be inspired an
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Jason Furman
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novella, fiction
The back cover of this short novella compares it to Borges, which seems to be a common comparison among Argentine authors, at least the ones more available in English translation. Although if you had asked me, I would have said the book was 80 percent Chesterton (of The Man Who Was Thursday), 15 percent Nabokov (of Pale Fire), and at most 5 percent Borges. And a reasonably well executed version of that.

It describes less than twenty-four hours in the life of a Panamanian civil servant in the 1930
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Arlo
Apr 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I definitely enjoyed the prose, (big fan of Aira in general) and the book over all. My only complaint is the book took me below the surface on philosophical tangents several times that essentially just dangled there. For instance very early on in the book Varamo can not find change for his bills. There being a shortage in money the common man is paid in(coins), as coins are to expensive to manufacture. Those in power are paid in paper money(higher denominations) that are cheaper to make thus no ...more
Jeremy
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Aira's ability to create these surreal, domestic little fabulations seems to have no end. He blends melodrama, farce, technical data and latin American history together around a weirdly compelling protagonist whose greatest achievement in life the entire book basically serves as a run up to. The more metaphysical strain in Aira's writing comes out in full force in Varamo more than it does in some of his other books, his musings about causality, art, repetition and finitude are as deftly handled ...more
Bläckätare
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After having choked on The Hare, Varamo's mutant fish went down much more smoothly. Next up Shantytown.
Andrew Kaufman
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another winner! This one, while not haven't the outright surrealism of The Seamstress and the Wind, has a much more, at least for Aira, plot and it really paid off. I love this guy!
Magdelanye
It has been said...that the ultimate achievement in literature is to make the content resonate somehow in the form. p46

This being the first book of CA that I have read, and due to its brevity, I cannot say that this can be considered an ultimate achievement. However, resonate it does and certainly it has spurred me to make reading more of his work a mission.

... how the inexplicable can be hidden within what we always take for granted. p62

The delicious black humor is subtle enough that I'm sure a
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Tom Lichtenberg
"The idea was to simulate naturalness, in other words, to make it up as he went along. That might have seemed the easiest thing in the world, the paragon of easiness, but in fact there was nothing more difficult."

This quote from Varamo, by Cesar Aira, suggests the author's own methodology. Aira is said to begin with an idea or two and then just go with it, writing full steam ahead and never looking back, never making revisions or altering what has come before no matter how the story develops. Hi
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Luis Silva
May 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
César Aira’s Varamo is a reconstruction of the events that lead a lowly civil servant to the creation of a cultural masterpiece. It is an exploration on the source of inspiration, reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ penchant for turning the abstract discussion of art into the mechanics of a plot. A sort of adventure that is played out on a Pynchonian stage.

Aira presents this story as an essay written in the style of a fictional narrative. The narration even muses on its own use of the free indire
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Anne
This novella is not really much of a story. It is a random guy who goes through random things and meets random people. There is no plot and no point. That's OK but it also had as a result that it just didn't really make any impression on me.

I liked the self-awareness of the text about literature, its evenly dosed wit and I really loved that in the novella, the author of the most celebrated poem in Panama merely transcribed his notebook of his hobbyist attempts at taxidermy in order to cash in. T
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Julie H.
Apr 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Varamo is a quirky little novella that successfully juggles many themes. On the one hand, it's a 12-hour window into the life of a government worker in 1920s Panama who is jolted out of his well-trodden and issue-laden rut when he is paid late one afternoon in counterfeit bills. On the other hand, it's a supremely self-aware little consideration of such themes as identity, family, nation, power, public opinion, literary production, criticism and creativity.

This was the first of Aira's books tha
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Alex V.
I have a thing for South American poets that write novels about poets that are chasing poetry like a runaway kite. Especially in their short books. This has that charged kind of prose found on Bolaño's By Night In Chile or Aira's own weirdly cool How I Became a Nun, without being quite as good as either of those. I read this cover to cover sitting by the pool in 98° heat and it flew by without either the reader or the protagonist quite knowing what was going on or why we were following the trail ...more
Tom
Mar 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Funny, poetic, sly, and joyful: not a plot summary but a description of how this novella made me feel. I could see how Aira and Bolaño were good friends: both share a sense of the mischievous, an appreciation for serendipity, and political plots. An outline of the action? The hero, Varama, a Panamanian civil servant, is accidentally paid his monthly salary in counterfeit bills, has difficulty in buying a piece of candy on the way home, attempts to taxidermy a fish once home, has dinner with his ...more
Brent Legault
I have never spent an unpleasant minute with Aira. But lately, I've wondered if I wouldn't mind, for a minute or two, feeling upset about something he said or about how he had said it. I read Veramo with a hazy, filmy ease, like what I imagine a tincture of laudanum makes you feel like. No valleys, no peaks, just gently rolling hills for 90ish pages. Aira imparts his brief stories with an amazing sense of purposeful aimlessness. They are "nice." Well, no, some of them are better than nice. It's ...more
Rowena
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good
i found this while browsing in a bookstore in SFO and later happened upon it again in the new books section at my school's library, so i had to read it.

it was introspective and randomly hilarious without feeling gimmicky. i liked the length too. overall, did not disappoint.

this is strange but the way the action was laid out sometimes reminded me of homestuck.

"Beware of procrastination; it's the bane of literature."
Yola
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Beautifully written and hauntingly funny. The Domy Book Club called it "Kafka meets Charlie Chaplin." The novel is short in length but definitely requires a leafing through afterward (or even a second read) to process the annotations of protagonist, Varamo, throughout the book.
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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
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“He couldn’t believe that sleep had robbed him of this spectacle night after night. Such are the writer’s privileges, he thought, nostalgic already for the present.” 15 likes
“He had developed a superstitious fear of the instant, that tiny hole through which all the time available to human beings must pass.” 5 likes
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