Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: "My Documents" by Alejandro Zambra

My Documents, the first short story collection, and ironically, the longest book by Chilean author Alejandro Zambra is a book whose few good qualities are drastically overshadowed by its plainness. Despite its unique setting and a unique worldview on Zambra’s part, it never comes through fully since its structure is never anything new. It treads emotional depths that I have seen many times before, and presents characters that have qualms and flaws that are nothing new. I read Zambra’s novel, The Private Lives of Trees last year. It was okay, a short novel with charm, but for someone whose books barely crack the 100 page mark, his first collection of short stories leaves a lot to be desired, leaving not a good or a bad impression, but really no impression at all. It’s the kind of book I will have forgotten most of by this time next year. But I did come away with an initial feeling of liking some of these stories, all of which take place around the time Pinochet came back into power in Chile in the early seventies. The title story is quite good, telling of this regime’s reach into the lives of everyday families in Chile. Again, I have seen it before, but it was still a well-written story. “Camilo”, while very uninteresting throughout, hits emotional pay dirt by the end, leaving each character with an undying pang of regret. My favorite story is “National Institute”, a kind of list about schooling during the regime. It shows Zambra’s talent for writing children, and is the most purely entertaining story of the collection. At the end, I felt a little too eager to leave this fictional world and go onto another. I’d say skip this book, and read one of Zambra’s little novels. This is an odd, out-of-place misstep. 
Rating: 3/5

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