‘The Lime Tree’ by César Aira is a recent arrival in the World Shop at the Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) on London Street. The short novel is set in Coronel Pringles in Argentina, a real place named after a real person, Juan Pascual Pringles, a hero of the wars of independence against Spain in the early nineteenth century. It is also where author César Aira really grew up.
The tale begins with the ‘flowers or the leaves or the little capsules’ of a monster lime tree on the plaza at Pringles which the narrator’s father collected to dry and make tea from to help his insomnia.
The reader is presented with a jumbled and tangled sewing basket of clues to the life of a boy growing up in the 1950s at the end of the Peron era and following the Revolucion Libertadora. These observations and insights, anecdotes and vignettes, often barely connected are entertaining and charming illuminations of daily life.
The path taken by the author in relating his story is tangential. ‘Evita‘ makes a cameo appearance in the form of two friends mission to complete their dead husband’s and father’s Eva Peron stamp collections. The narrator does not learn about the positioning of commas and ‘the spatial relations of the written universe’ at school or from a textbook, but from a three volume encyclopedia of accounting.
Coronel Pringles’ truck drivers, who featured in Aira’s ‘The Seamstress and the Wind‘, are asleep in bed in this book but their wives spend their afternoons gossiping and knitting in the warm cabs of their vehicles.
There are parts of this book which do not make sense or fit but the reader desperately wants them to, so much so that having reached the end you have a strong desire to return again to the first of these exceptionally enjoyable 106 pages.
Cover price £8.99.
The title of the book in the original Spanish is El Tilo and it was first published in 2003. This translation from Spanish by Chris Andrews is The Lime Tree in the UK edition published by And Other Stories, and the The Linden Tree in the American edition from New Directions. Does it matter? I don’t know; translation is in any case a mysterious art.
The Whitley Pump travel correspondent may have to arrange a trip to Coronel Pringles. This small town with a population of less than 25,000 was founded in 1882 and has some fascinating Art Deco architecture by Francisco Salamone.