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3.71  ·  Rating details ·  794 ratings  ·  105 reviews
Maxi, a middle-class, directionless ox of a young man who helps the trash pickers of Buenos Aires's shantytown, attracts the attention of a corrupt, trigger-happy policeman who will use anyone -- including two innocent teenage girls -- to break a drug ring that he believes is operating within the slum. A strange new drug, a brightly lit carousel of a slum, the kindness of ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published November 20th 2013 by New Directions (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
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Glenn Russell

Shantytown is Argentine author César Aira's 2001 quirky, scintillating novella that begins with kindhearted hulk Maxi helping poor men and women from Buenos Aires' Shantytown scavenge for garbage and ends with a parody of an action-packed, melodramatic Hollywood B movie.

Since César's literary aesthetic isn't so much about plot as it is creating a natural momentum propelling the story to take over and lead him as author into what he terms "the constant flight forward," - no revisions; forever onw
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hispanic
The sea of error: the world.

Good luck with trying to describe and capture the essence of this novella and, by extension, Aira’s fictions which are accurately labeled in the blurb as “mad invention.” Noirish, fairy tale-like, hyper-real verging on the surreal, a free flow of crazy twists and improbable events all coming together to create a tragicomic ending…or not.

Here, the shantytown stands as a symbol for any large modern city and its seemingly intractable social conflicts fueled by wealth, po
Jeff Bursey
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
As with other Aira books, I finish the last page and ask, how did he do that? Reading Aira has to be considered a great pleasure, and I'm very glad he has so many books out. ...more
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, translation
césar aira : literature :: coen brothers : cinema

you may never quite know what to expect going into it, but you can always be sure of a singular, engaging, imaginative, quirky, inimitable, and worthwhile experience.

aira's shantytown (la villa), while a bit unlike his previous works already available in english translation, feels just like any other aira outing. although shantytown is without the genre-shifting that characterizes so many of his novel(la)s, there'd be no mistaking it for the work
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow. I loved it & cannot even begin to explain it. Descriptions do not do this wonderland of a novella justice. (I read those afterward; I went into this story blind.) I love literature that takes me by surprise & treats me to such a wonderful mix of elements. Fabulous & one I'd highly recommend. ...more
Andy Weston
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is set up and summarised as a crime about a drug ring that operates in the slums of Buenos Aires, but that’s the vaguest of descriptions, more, it ponders over clashes between poverty and class, and insight into interactions between the city’s youth. It’s less of the thrilling, and more about the volatile relations in a corrupt police and the city’s poorest trying to survive.
It’s a sort of parody (of a detective story for example) in which you are expecting a takeaway message, but there is
Jan 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Maxi, a middle class twenty-something, who has nothing to fill his days except visits to the gym. He begins observing and following the cardboard collectors who make their rounds daily just minutes before trash is collected. Having lived in Brazil, I also saw people hauling carts around the city center, stacked with cardboard. This book is set in the late 90's, the same time I lived in southern Brazil. Having seen the brilliant Brazilian film Trash, I know that many of the people who scrapped ou ...more
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, new-directions
For someone as sensitive as he was to the passing hours of the day, the winter dusk was bound to have a meaning. But what was it? The meaning without a name, in other words: nothing. The meanings all fell away, or revealed how empty they had been from the start. Hardly anything hapens, after all, in an individual life: most of the time is spent working to survive and then recovering from work. If someone added up all the time that individuals have spent achieving nothing, just to keep time ti
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Picture to yourself a circular shantytown with streets branching diagonally toward the center -- but never quite getting there. Marking each street heading into the area are decorative lights arranged in various recognizable patterns.

Heading toward this shantytown is big, stupid, but kind Maxi. Following him is his sister Vanessa and her girlfriend Jessica. Following the girls is crooked cop Ignacio Cabezas (who is being mistaken for another man -- a bereaved father of a slain teenaged girl --
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I tried to read Shantytown about a year ago but I was conscious toward the end that I was just letting the words run past my eyes without catching, and when I hit the last page I didn't know what I'd read.

Now upon finishing it "for real," I'm aware that Shantytown might be the first Aira novel I've read that is actually too smart for me to grasp, even when I was paying attention. Like Aira's books often do, this is a novel that does not end anywhere near where it began -- instead, it free-associ
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sarah by: Browsing library shelves with J.
Shelves: latin-american
Myth-like. Without detail. I would say that it could have been more cleverly wrapped up, but the story just might be better left tangled.

I think Aira likes to play with his readers. Throughout the story, he reiterates that the little incidents of life are meaningless: "Hardly anything happens, after all, in an individual life." Then he composes an entire story out of little incidents and they seem to matter very much as they build up to a dramatic endpoint. It's almost like he convinces the rea
Xian Xian
Nov 24, 2014 rated it really liked it

When I got this book during Christmas, I was in love with its tiny size. It's a novella so of course it's short, but it's also tiny. Square shaped and thin, the type of book you can take anywhere. If you're a man or a person that wears men's clothing, you will have the privilege of reading this and shoving it in your pocket just like your wallet. Oh I hate you, fashion industry.

Anyway, to the story. What the hell is this little book about? It's about a guy who discovers a shantytown, a town wit
Tom Lichtenberg
Cesar Aira is known for his improvisational style, how he just makes it all up as he goes along and never looks back or revises, but in Shantytown he provides this fascinating definition of improvisation: "People always assume that to improvise is to act without thinking. But if you do something on an impulse, or because you feel like it, or just like that, without knowing why, it’s still you doing it, and you have a history that has led to that particular point in your life, so it’s not really ...more
Nathan Marone
Cesar Aira's working method, which I knew about going in on my first book of his, is on full display here.

Reading Shantytown is the narrative equivalent of an ADD diary. Though tied to a story in a only the loosest of ways, this short book jumps around with incredible ease; within a few pages Aira can give you a character sketch, a remarkable description of urban life, muse on the socio-economic complexities of Buenos Aries, go on a surrealist/absurdist bent, create a new story line that he wil
Cymru Roberts
Jul 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: latin-american
Interesting bit of science fiction here... I had to lower my cynicism deflector shields in the beginning because I wanted to write Aira off as a second-rate Bolaño, which he is in a way, but he demonstrates enough imaginative power here to stand on his own.

There were some awesome sentences spread throughout and the overall vibe was very 1980's, or more like a sitcom from the 2080's, when 80s culture comes back in style only in this futureworld there are clones and proxidine.

I think I read some
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantabulous
Shantytown 🍒🍒🍒🍒🍒
By Cesar Aira


What can I say about Cesar Aira......he is imaginative, and his novels, always very short, say so much and engage your mind to think and then re-think everything you ever thought before. Aira is from Buenos Ares and most of his novels are located there, and always involve the outer fringes or urban areas. His words, and vision....his stories so short but so deep....I love this guy. Read his books. He will keep you thinking.
Shantytown is abo
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
"If God intervened in earthly justice, crimes would be punished straight away. And that could only happen if it had been happening all along, in which case human beings would have adjusted their behavior accordingly. People would refrain from robbing and killing just as they get out of the way of a speeding bus: they would do it automatically because the species would have incorporated the knowledge that the consequences were automatic and fatal. In other words, it wouldn't be strictly speaking ...more
Jan 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Aira writes beautifully. If I understood Spanish better, I would try to read his work in its native language. The back of the book description suggests a violent cop story, but it's much more about a sweet, slow-witted young man and the lives he touches. I noticed a bit of unnecessary repetition, but I'm not sure how much of that came from the translator. And on occasion, I thought I had missed something, but was actually just too impatient. A couple of key characters could have been developed m ...more
Meh. That pretty much sums up all my thoughts on this book.

I read this for the Read Harder Challenge 2017, and it was definitely that...a challenge.

Maybe it's just because I read this slow-moving and ponderous novel after reading a LOT of YA and fantasy, which was fast-paced and easy to read, that I didn't like Shantytown. Somehow though, after reading it, I still have no idea what it was I just read. My brain did not latch on to this story or its characters at all.

Not going to recommend it.
Oct 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014, latam
Didn't do a whole lot for me. I'm not sure how well Aira's writing sits with me. I haven't quite grasped on it in any sort of meaningful way. ...more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Latin America Literature
Recommended to Leonart by: Glenn Russell
Shelves: gods-wrote-it
Maxi's personality was prophetic like Moses or Noah...thanks to Glenn Russell for the recommendations... ...more
Apr 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shantytown gets off to a relatively slow start, but as it gains momentum Aira's style comes more into focus. The bizarre, inexplicable dreamlike storylines wind together into one of his tighter plot constructions, which makes sense given that this is ultimately a detective novel, albeit one that uses the tropes of the genre against one another. Shantytown made me want to read Auster's City of Glass again, which I mean as a compliment. This is a good introduction to Aira's work and also a great s ...more
Jan 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shantytown is one of those books that while reading I couldn't help but ask myself, "Where is he headed with all this?" There is Maxi, the Adonis-like, slow-reading, slow-thinking young man who takes it upon himself to push the heavily-laden carts of the scavenging poor people of this shantytown of Buenos Aires. There is Ignacio Cabezas who just happens to share that name with the father of a murdered girl. There are odd patterns of light bulbs, brightly illuminating the shantytown at night, thr ...more
May 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Read Harder 2017: Set in South America by a South American Author

This book reminded me a lot of I'll Sell You a Dog which I also read for a book club. Both gave me the feeling like I was either missing something in the translation or that the author was intentionally creating a world I wasn't meant to fully understand. Interestingly, like I'll Sell You a Dog, one of the things that stood out to me the most about this book was my experience of a place. In this book it was the shantytown, lit up b
I. Merey
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's hard and easy to say what this book is about. A middle-class boy becomes obsessed with the garbage collectors of a Buenos Aires shantytown and starts to follow the around. A corrupt cop uses an unusual coincidence and a past murder to try to get an inside to this shantytown, on the tail of a new drug. Two middle-class teenage girls, and a serious maid who cleans for their families, but lives in the shantytown, come into the mix....

It seems a linear story but as it progresses it slowly, del
Benjamin Wallace
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Such a bizarre and fantastic story. The hulking gentle giant Maxi fell into step with my beating heart almost instantly. The writing of Cesar Aira is beautiful. The pacing of the story blew me away, as soon as the deluge of rain starts falling on Buenos Aires the current of the story washes you away in a tidal wave of speed and excitement as you lay on your back and are rushed along the dreamy song Aira is singing to you. Mystified by the lights reflecting lights reflecting rain reflecting life. ...more
Shawn  Aebi
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A rapid read of this story centered in the slums of Buenos Aires in the 1990s. If anything the story ends too quickly, as you are becoming fascinated with Maxi, his sister Vanessa, the maid who works in the adjacent building (seen from opposite 3rd story apartments) and the arc of their lives. Well constructed story with some dynamite characters.
Justin Paszul
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another madcap Aira adventure, breathlessly paced but somehow still taking its time to enjoy the peculiar little details of thought and life and commentary on the novel itself as it progresses. The most predictably unpredictable of authors - it's always a fun ride. This one was especially Calvino-esque (all roads as always leading to Italo). ...more
Jul 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
A swift moving piece of crime drama meta-fiction. Borrows heavily from the world of reality TV, crime melodrama, and cartoon good/evil stories. Major plot twists are introduced with the casualness of rolling down a car window. Like a roller coaster that jolts and excites, but ends abruptly.
Willy Williams
A friend gave me this short novel for my birthday. It’s is as circular and dreamlike and mysterious as the Buenos Aires shantytown it describes. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I couldn’t put it down. Thank you, Mel, for introducing me to a fascinating new writer.
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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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“O era contradictorio, o había que redefinir el término "improvisación". Siempre se piensa que improvisar es actuar sin pensar. Pero si uno hace una cosa por un impulso, o porque le da la gana, o directamente sin saber por qué, de todas maneras es uno el que la hace, y uno tiene una historia que lo ha llevado a ese punto de su vida; y entonces, lejos de no haber pensado ese acto, no podría haberlo pensado más: lo ha estado pensando cada minuto desde que nació.” 6 likes
“Who hasn’t succumbed to a hopeless feeling more powerful than all the strength one might possibly muster, wondering how many first steps will have to be taken, how many actions performed and words spoken, how many labyrinths will have to be negotiated in order, finally, to reach the moment at which reality begins to happen.” 1 likes
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