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Bonsaï

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Julio tombe amoureux d'Emilia. Leur histoire est belle, faite de plus d'omissions que de mensonges et de moins d'omissions que de vérités.

Mais leur amour finit et Emilia disparaît.

Des années plus tard, son amie Anita part la chercher à Madrid. Pendant ce temps, Julio décide de se consacrer à la culture du bonsaï.

Des personnages qui se croisent sans jamais se rencontrer, telle est la trame de Bonsaï. Alejandro Zambra n'offre ainsi aucune issue à ses personnages. Décrivant un monde en mouvement, mais qui ne fait pas sens, il pointe du doigt la vanité des hommes et leur impossibilité à être.

91 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 2006

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About the author

Alejandro Zambra

49 books2,632 followers
Alejandro Zambra is a Chilean writer. He is the author of Bonsai, The Private Lives of Trees, Ways of Going Home, My Documents, Multiple Choice, Not to Read and Chilean Poet. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granta, Harper's, Zoetrope, and McSweeney’s, among other places.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,453 reviews
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
964 reviews6,825 followers
December 26, 2022
What's the purpose of being with someone if they don't change your life?

There are some books that can be consumed in a singular hour, yet remain within you to be digested by the intellect for days or weeks. Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai is such a book. The precise simplicity of the novel makes it a difficult book to talk as the novella feels as fragile as an intricately colored moth’s wing—admire its beauty but don’t touch it lest it turn to dust. There is a feeling of weightlessness to the prose and story that still manages to weigh heavy in the heart and soul upon completion. It is the story of two young lovers, lovers of one another and literature, and what happens to them once they part. It is as simple as that, yet complex in its mechanics and implications. Like the bonsai grown by Julio, the story exists and flourishes within the confines of its literary container, with Zambra’s pristine prose trimming the limbs of love to enshrine it as a miniature work of art and beauty.

There is a sweet simplicity and breathless fluidity to this tiny novel. Characters silently sweep on and off the stage, love is found and lost within the length of a paragraph, revelations are made and people are lost forever, all without rising from a soft idyllic tone that Zambra executes with the care of one polishing expensive glassware. Broken into five short segments, each comes like a delicate waves on the ocean, each separate with their own emotional peak to crash onto our heart’s shores yet all one body of literature moving together. There is also a wry humor integrated in the otherwise somber plot that gives it wings and keeps it from plummeting into melodrama. What is most impactful is the way that Zambra circles around the story yet never jabs his pen into it’s heart, keeping everything in the hazy peripherals of a story that need not be addressed head on as the reader already understands it’s shape.

In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die. The rest is literature.

This is a novel of love, but most importantly a novel about literature. Zambra shows his hand, plot-wise, from the very first sentence, entrusting the reader to understand that this is an exercise of literature and that the ‘from A to B’ plot is secondary, a mere current of events to power the lightbulb of ideas. There is a gorgeous character study at play: Julio and Emilia, two college students become lovers ‘doomed to seriousness.’ These two could be anyone, symbols really for any two people connected by ‘the emotional affinities that any couple is capable of discovering with only a little effort.’ Much of the simplicity, and the way Zambra refers to Julio and Emilia ‘who are not exactly characters, though maybe it’s convenient to think of them as characters,’ helps build a universal microcosm of relationships. Anyone that has loved or loved and lost can find charm in the hazy tale Zambra has created. Julio and Emilia lie to one another on their first sexual encounter, both claiming to have read Marcel Proust, and embellish the lies with partly-true details to bring their falsehoods to life. In a way, they are creating literature and as their relationship continues, full of lies and truths and half-truths like any young couple, they further their depth as characters both literally and metaphysically. Any lover of literature is sure to be charmed by their sexual foreplay consisting of reading to one another, from role-playing Madame Bovary (neither ever wanted to be Charles), and the way they ‘re-read’ Proust together. It is their reading of the short story Tantalia¹ by Macedonio Fernández—a story of a couple who fear the survival of their relationship is dependant on the life of a clover plant the unnamed woman gives the man as a symbol of love, that gives them pause and reveals the mortality of theirs and all relationships.

Once outside its flowerpot, the tree ceases to be a bonsai.

When Julio decides to grow a bonsai, he discovers a few key lines in a care manual:
A bonsai is an artistic replica of a tree, in miniature. It consists of two elements: the living tree and the container. The two elements must be in harmony and the selection of the appropriate pot for a tree is almost an art form in itself.
The opening sentence, ‘in the end she dies and he remains alone,’ becomes the container from which the story—the ‘the rest is literature,’ grows and flourishes. The people that come and go from their lives are like the limbs of the bonsai tree which are carefully cut to grow in a desired shape. However, the story itself is a series of containers. Julio writes a novel about a man who learns of the death of a lost love (this being before Julio learns of Emilia’s death) and grows a bonsai as a love plant in her honour, the story of which, later, Julio will act out in his own life. The story of the bonsai is the literature that grows from the container of Fernandez’s story, Tantalia, and finds itself actually occurring on several levels of the narrative; there is a doubling, or tripling and so forth, of meaning that all functioning in relation to one another, a meta-narrative style that works nearly like two mirrors reflecting back at one another with a bonsai situated between them. The bonsai ‘an artistic replica...in miniature,’ is then Julio’s novel, but also the novel itself with so many self-referential aspects that it teases the reader into fantasizing an intentional fallacy and pondering if the Zambra wrote his novel in relation to Tantalia as did Julio, and if the love plot has any half-truths in Zambra’s own life. It is the intricate potting of a story within a story that really sticks with the reader, the half-truths of life that go on to become a work of art, the literature housed in the container of experience.

Bonsai is a quiet little novel with quite the emotional punch. It displays a budding promise for it’s young author, who would later make good on those promises with The Private Lives of Trees, which I found to be even more emotionally impactful. What I love most is the way this novella makes literature seem like the most important aspect of life. The fragility of life and love is explored in beautiful and breathless prose that makes this elliptical little novel well worth the time.

4.5/5

I want to end Julio’ story, but Julio’s story doesn’t end, that’s the problem.

¹ A big thank you to Mike and Matt for sending me Tantalia, a quite insightful story that is also key to unlocking the heart of Zambra’s own story.
Profile Image for Guille.
784 reviews1,746 followers
October 18, 2021
“la vida solo tenía sentido si encontrabas a alguien que te la cambiara, que destruyera tu vida.”
La contraportada del libro lo clava: “del mismo modo que un bonsái no es un árbol, más que una novela corta o un relato largo, [Bonsái] es una novela-resumen o, justamente, una novela bonsái”.

Tal cual.

Uno siente durante las no más de dos horas que lleva leerla que todo es un prólogo, una introducción, y que en cualquier momento empezará la verdadera novela. Es como si alguien te viniera a contar la última película que ha ido a ver, aunque no alguien cualquiera, claro, pues no cualquiera es capaz de explicarte la película como lo hace Zambra, y no cualquiera conseguiría, con una historia tan trivial -chico conoce chica y al final “todo se va a la mierda”- que te apeteciera tanto ver la película (una película que en verdad existe, que fue a Cannes y que yo no he visto).
“Fue, en especial, un tiempo de mucho yogur, y esto, para Emilia, resultó importante, porque venía de un periodo de mucho pisco”
Por lo que Bonsái es más “una forma de contar” que lo contado, y hasta lo contado tiene una relación íntima con lo contado por otros a través de las muchas lecturas compartidas por los dos personajes, la mentira sobre una lectura que se hacen ambos, y, sobre todo, una lectura-metáfora de la propia relación que viven ambos y que va a ser crucial en sus vidas: Tantalia, de Macedonio Fernández.
“Tantalia es la historia de una pareja que decide comprar una plantita como símbolo del amor que los une. Tardíamente se dan cuenta de que si la plantita se muere, con ella también morirá el amor que los une. Y que como el amor que los une es inmenso y por ningún motivo están dispuestos a sacrificarlo, deciden perder la plantita entre una multitud de plantitas idénticas. Luego viene el desconsuelo, la desgracia de saber que ya nunca podrán encontrarla.”
En el relato prima una sencillez casi infantil, donde es importante el juego realidad-ficción que el narrador establece con el lector y que contrasta con la tristeza que emerge de lo contado y que en gran parte solo se intuye.
Profile Image for Jaidee.
605 reviews1,200 followers
August 9, 2020
2.5 "perplexed, indifferent, what-is-the-fuss-all-about ?!" stars !!

I am at a loss as how this book won Chile’s Literary Critics’ Award for Best Novel. Was it a very bad year? Were there no other novels published? Were the critics all first year double majors in post-modern literature and philosophy?

I don't get it!!

Don't get me wrong...this is not a poor book but I found nothing that interesting, or moving, or interesting, or profound, or interesting, or humorous, or interesting, or meaningful, or interesting or special, or interesting. I think you get my gist.

Lots of literary name dropping, random stories that interact in almost a predictable (and dull) fashion and two-dimensional characters living their lives rather emptily. I was bored, indifferent but very perplexed at the many accolades given to this novella.

Here is a little sample:

" She thought, or more accurately she felt, that she did not want to hear what Emilia was going to tell her, that she did not wish to know what she seemed in any case condemned to know. I don't want to know why there's so much shit in this neighborhood, why you came to live in this neighborhood full of caca, replete with cunning glances, with weird young people, with fat ladies dragging bags, and with fat ladies who aren't dragging bags but who walk very slowly. She examined, once again, carefully, Emilia's eyebrow. She decided it was better to stay quiet in regard to Emilia's eyebrows..." and on and on and on.

In the end I don't care. Read it and tell me what you think!!
Profile Image for Kenny.
507 reviews937 followers
January 25, 2023
What's the purpose of being with someone if they don't change your life.
Bonsaï ~~ Alejandro Zambra


1

Alejandro Zambra’s, Bonsai, is as delicate as the miniature tree it’s named after. It is a stunning accomplishment. Zambra accomplishes in 86 pages what other writers take hundreds of pages to accomplish. Just as the silence between notes in a musical composition can define a work, so too do the silences in Bonsai define this work.

Bonsai is the story of Julio and Emilia, a young Chilean couple who become lovers almost inadvertently. While the narrative starts with them getting together, it also shadows them for countless years, situations, and affairs that happen away from each other. As the lives of Julio and Emilia move ahead, they meet other people who play important roles in their personal story, but still the two ex-lovers remain present, like quiet ghosts that hang around in shadowy places. The pictures Zambra presents vary in length and significance, but they’re all equally brilliant.

2

In an oblique way, this is a book about literature. The two lovers take central stage, but their props are books and their dialogue centers around books for most of the first third of the narrative; this gives the story unexpected depth. As university students with a fondness for prose, Emilia and Julio share their love for the written word. Julio ends up writing a novel by hand when he decides to fake that he’s helping a famous author transcribe his latest book.

Bonsai is an amazing read that gives one a sense of having experienced something magical.

3
Profile Image for Adina .
890 reviews3,539 followers
May 16, 2017
Bonsai is the first piece of literature that I read in Spanish. It was the right choice for me from the language point of view. The narrative was simple and the vocabulary did not raise many difficulties. I definitely recommend it if you are an intermediate Spanish learner and want to learn by reading.

However, this novella did not stir any feelings in me. It was like I was reading a textbook. I though it might be that I was reading in Spanish but I do not think so.

Alejandro Zambra is young Chilean Novelist and the receiver of the Chile’s Literary Critics’ Award for Best Novel for Bonsai. I am bit puzzled why this won the prize, maybe there weren't many books published that year, who knows. The author tried to do something interesting, modern and fresh using a conversational, detached tone. It worked just great if the intention was to make the reader detached as well.

The novella is basically the love story of Julio and Emilia and what happens to their life after they separate (spoilers: nothing nice). It seems a simple plot but the message wants to be deeper. The only problem is that I completely missed it. What I did not miss is how uninteresting the reading experience was and if there was a deeper meaning then I could not care less.

The Kindle edition that I own also contains The Secret Life of Trees which I am planning to read to improve my reading abilities. I really hope that one is going to be a better experience.
Profile Image for David.
296 reviews755 followers
October 16, 2022
When I read Chilean Poet earlier this summer, I was at a loss as to why Zambra seems to have developed a cult following. After reading Bonsai, I see it now. His detached, smug narration of (cishet) relationships, saturated in contemporary Chilean mores, has a certain pull on the reader. In some ways he reminds me of Sally Rooney, both in terms of narrative style and subject matter. But even though Bonsai isn't as tedious as Chilean Poet (and it's mercifully much shorter), Zambra still doesn't do it for me. Perhaps I'm just at a point in my reading life where I don't need to read one more comedy of manners about a conventional relationship - even where one of the participants turns up dead. As an aside, I enjoyed McDowell's new translation of this. Even if it wasn't strictly necessary (the De Robertis is still in print and available), McDowell does a magnificent job conveying Zambra's narrative tone and handles certain difficult passages with aplomb.
Profile Image for Mevsim Yenice.
Author 4 books1,009 followers
August 22, 2019
Kitap hakkında yazacaklarımı düşünürken, kitabı sandığımdan daha çok beğendiğimi fark ettim. Zambra en sonda söylemesi gerektiğini bazen başta, bazen ortalarda söylüyor. Sonra bir ileri bir geri sara sara ipleri örüyor kurguyu. Aslında bu tam olarak kurgu mu bilmiyorum. Sanki onun bambaşka bir tekniği var. "An" gibi tam da. Bi sabah rüyadan kalkıp yüzünü unuttuğumuz birinin görüntülerinin zihnimizde saliselik şimşekler halinde çakması gibi. Sonra bir duygu. Tam adlandıramadığımız ama anlamaya çalıştığımız. Zambra da öyle aklına geldiği gibi kopuk kopuk, sırası olmadan anlatıyor sanki. Gördüğü rüyayı birleştirmeye çalışıyoruz biz de.

Julio ve Emilia baş karakterlerimiz. Üniversite yıllarında sevgili olmuş ve sevişme öncesi birbirlerine kitap okuyan, uyumlu tatlı bir çift. Çarşafların arasında uyumaya bir kala açık kalmış bir kitap, birbirine ait iki beden ve ruh. Ne kadar güzel değil mi? Sonra ayrılıyorlar. Birlikte başlanılan kitaplar yarım kalıyor. Bu süreçte Emilia’nın çocukluk ve ev arkadaşı Anita'yı da tanıyoruz. O kadar güzel anlatılmış ki o bölümler, sevgilisi olduktan sonra değişen, dönüşen bir kişiyi eski arkadaşın algılamaya çalışması ve suçlu olarak arkadaşının sevgilisini görmesi. Ve aslında bedenen ve ruhen birleştiğimiz birinde dönüşümün kaçınılmaz olması... Tüm bunlar usul usul işleniyor okuyucuya. Sonraları Gazmuri giriyor kitaba. Bir yazar. Zambra'nın olmazsa olmazı yani. Ve Bonzai'de tam burada devreye giriyor. Öyle görkemli bir giriş ki benceBonzai'nin girişi, resmen bir yerlerime darbe alıyorum okurken. İrkiliyorum. Nasıl da denk getirmiş diye söyleniyorum kendi kendime. Tüm bu karakterlerin kesişim kümeleri ise Julio.
En başta dediğim gibi hikaye kronolojik gitmiyor. Hikayenin sonu baştan belli oluyor. Buna rağmen finali bilmek işin tadını kaçırıyor mu? Asla! Ben yine en sonda Zambra'nın her kitabının sonunda olduğu gibi içimde yine o dolmayan daha da açılan boşlukla baş başa kaldım. Yine şunu hissettim: Aslında hayat sahiden öyle kronolojik gidecek kadar da doğrusal bir şekilde yaşanmıyor içimizde. Bazen birilerine rastlıyoruz, bir süre birlikte yol alıyoruz, dönüşüyoruz, ve hatta belki de bu yaşadığımız en güzel en derin başkalaşım oluyor ama o insanı bir yol kenarında bırakıyoruz, yola yalnız veya ileride başkalarıyla devam ediyoruz. Ama başkalaşım yaşandı bir kere. Yollar ayrılsa da, olaylar değişse de, içimizde bir yerlerde o yolcu hep gizli saklı kalıyor. İşte o kronolojik gitmeyen düzen var ya, 15 yıl önce hissetmen gereken boşluğu sana 15 yıl sonra bir başka anıda, bir başka anda yaşatıyor. Bu kitap da en sonunda bana çok eski zamanlardan bir hissi hatırlattı yeniden. Zambra etkisi ve nahifliği diyorum ben buna!
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,614 followers
October 21, 2015
What does a resonating journal do? Arrest us in the powerful aura of words? Dispatch us to the comforting cocoon of our memories? Render a blanket of dignity to our failures? Exhort our fledgling dreams to a palpable fruition? Cast a succor net on our isolated struggles? Attest our timidity as a prelude to stronger days?

For me, it's essentially about reading about a distant 'me', the identity of this 'me' to be an inhabitant of past corridors or a tenant of future roads being inconsequential. As long as I detect a shade of me in the journal's evocation, I am obsessed to read till the last drop of ink has faded. And Zambra doesn't do anything much, besides telling me a story about Julio, who could well be sitting across me in this cafe and reciting the content, verbatim.

A failed love story: Check.
Days without purpose: Check.
Happening life, feigned: Check.
Gaining foothold, tediously: Check.
Random loss of heart, again: Check.
Breaking of heart, again: Check.
More days without purpose: Check.
Unexpected ray of light: Check.
Ray of light, extinguished: Check.
Isolation, volunteered: Check.
Finding purpose, fortuitously: Check.
Uncommon, unconventional purpose: Check.
Purpose, uniting all other purposes: Check.

It is wonderful when a long, dark night is followed by the resuscitating ray of the morning sun. In its blinding fold, the venomous dew of defeats evaporate leaving behind the nurturing air for the bonsai of new hopes which sitting on the window sill, eyes the world coyly, with its delicate twigs of past learnings and present resolves fluttering to amalgamate in honor of its sturdy future.

When Zambra tells me that Julio found purpose in a bonsai after surviving inundating personal and professional hurricanes of losses and cessations, I nod my head in concurrence, for I know that the bonsai is , after all, a cojugal twin of heart: miniature, artistic, has two components (the living tree, akin to blood and the container, akin to the blood vessels) and needs no external flanks to be alive. As he says:
A bonsai is never called a bonsai tree. The word already includes the living element. Once outside its flowerpot, the tree ceases to be a bonsai.
Is it an irony that when I begun writing this review, the cafe was playing this track and now, I am hearing this track ? Not really. There is a smiling bonsai somewhere tucked in the corner here, perhaps.

Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
January 13, 2023
A metafictional short novella on relationships and loss, that lacked impact for me

Bonsai is about Julio and Emilia, students, who meet each other and in five short chapters and go through all the stages of a relationship. Literature plays an important role in their relationship, with the lovers reading stories to each other before copulation. The five chapters are loosely observant of their development, with lightly sketched characters appearing and disappearing rapidly.

I didn’t get a good feel of even the main characters and what drives them, let alone all the ancillary characters. The language of the book Alejandro Zambra uses is precise, but any tension is very early on diffused, leaving me with an unsatisfied feeling after finishing.
Profile Image for Alan.
470 reviews212 followers
April 3, 2023
Bonsai is just so incredibly fun. Not my first Zambra, but maybe it’s a good thing that I got Multiple Choice out of the way a couple of years ago, which allowed me to go into this without any bias.

It’s a short read - just under an hour. The reviewers quoted on the inside cover of my edition (for this new translation) have picked up on what I felt as I read the book: this story claws at 5 or 6 deeper stories within all of us, but doesn’t do it completely enough or frequently enough to be considered a 5-star hit. Rather, it does just enough to leave you with a vague sense of melancholic nostalgia and a yearning for more prose by Zambra.

I’ll quote a couple of sections from the book, in case you want to avert your eyes:

“The first lie Julio told Emilia was that he had read Marcel Proust. He didn’t usually lie about his reading, but that second night, when they both knew they were starting something, and that however long it lasted, this something was going to be important – that night, Julio deepened his voice, feigning intimacy, and said that, yes, he had read Proust when he was seventeen, during a summer in Quintero. By that time no one in his family summered in Quintero – not even Julio’s parents, who had met at El Durazno Beach, ever went to Quintero, a lovely beach town that according to them just wasn’t what it used to be, now that it had been overrun by the masses. Anyway, Julio said, at seventeen he had commandeered his grandparents’ summerhouse so he could shut himself in and read In Search of Lost Time. It was a lie, of course: he had gone to Quintero that summer, and he had read a lot, but he’d read Jack Kerouac, Heinrich Böll, Vladimir Nabokov, Truman Capote, and Enrique Lihn, not Marcel Proust.

That same night, Emilia lied to Julio for the first time, and the lie was, also, that she’d read Marcel Proust. At first she merely agreed: I read Proust too. But then there was a long, pregnant pause, which wasn’t an uncomfortable silence but rather an expectant one, so Emilia had to complete the story: I read it recently, just last year, it took me like five months, I was really busy, as you know, with classes. But I decided to read all seven volumes and those were truly the most important months of my life as a reader.”

“Julio doesn’t dare name the woman he has drawn. He calls her She. His very own She, of course. And he invents a story for her, a story that he doesn’t write, that he doesn’t bother to write.”
Profile Image for Jola.
184 reviews277 followers
July 23, 2020
IMAGINE…

Imagine a book whose first sentence is a huge spoiler: it summarizes the plot and tells you what will happen at the end.

Imagine a book which is a moving homage to literature and its ironic mockery at the same time.

Imagine a book in which its author invites you to participate in an intellectual game and winks at you in conspiracy from time to time.

Imagine a book filled to the brim with literary allusions.


Eyvind Earle, Bonsai, 1987.

Imagine a book which will enrich your To Be Read list.

Imagine a book which will make you ponder what some passages of classics would sound read aloud in an erotic voice.

Imagine a book which will make you understand – in case you are still not convinced – that literature not only provokes philosophical questions but also gives sheer joy.

Imagine a book by an author whose prose is 'as compact as a grain of gunpowder, but its allusions and ramifications branch out and illuminate even the most remote corners of our minds', according to Valeria Luiselli. She adds that it feels like 'someone’s shooting fireworks inside my head'.


Alfio Giuffrida, BONSAI Exp5, 2017.

Imagine a book which will make you wonder what a bonsai symbolizes from the author’s point of view. Literature? 'Caring for a bonsai is like writing, thinks Julio. Writing is like caring for a bonsai, thinks Julio.' Or maybe art in general? How about love? 'They decided to buy a bonsai to symbolize the immense love that united them.' Life? Illusory hopes? Needless to say, all the answers might be correct.

Imagine a book in which the plot, based on a love story, serves only as a catapult for reflection on writing and reading.

Imagine a book which will leave you hungry for more.

Imagine… Actually, you don’t have to imagine anything. Just read Bonsai (2008) by Alejandro Zambra.


Ee Suchin.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,527 reviews979 followers
May 3, 2018

In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death, Emilia's death. Let's say that she is called or was called Emilia and that he is called, was called, and continues to be called Julio. Julio and Emilia. In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die. The rest is literature:

I only wanted a local short novel to read between transfers on my recent trip to Chile, and I ended up with this precious gem of a poem in prose, heavy with the memories of my own lost youth among books and movies and lost loves that I know nothing about today. A poem dedicated to being young and careless and wasteful of the most precious moments of your life, if you only had the wisdom to know it at the time. A story about how literature intersects with life, about how books brought them together and about how books where insufficient to save them from drifting apart. An ode to the girl who lost her way and died much too young and to the boy who decides to grow up a tree in her memory.

When Julio fell in love with Emilia all the pleasure and suffering previous to the pleasure and suffering that Emilia brought him turned into simple imitations of true pleasure and suffering.

To analyze, to deconstruct this novel seems like sacrilege to me. It is intimate and painful and beautiful beyond the words that comprise it. Beyond making a note to read one of the key short stories that define the relationship between Julio and Emilia and the reason Julio chooses to commemorate their love with a bonsai. It is called "Tantalia" – by Macedonio Fernandez and, as I understand from the references, it is about a couple that decides to use a house plant as a symbol for their love.

—«»—«»—«»—

As I prepared to write some thoughts about my first Zambra experience, I found myself checking old notebooks from my student days for fragments of poetry that I underlined in the aftermath of broken relationships. I'll just leave them here, as more 'feuilles mortes' from my own bonsai.

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star, like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are, how fragile we are



Ne-om aminti cândva târziu
de-aceasta întâmplare simpla,
de-aceasta banca unde stam
tâmpla fierbinte lânga tâmpla.

De pe stamine de alun,
din plopii albi, se cerne jarul.
Orice-nceput se vrea fecund,
risipei se deda Florarul.



APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.



Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon cœur
D'une langueur
Monotone.
Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;
Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Profile Image for Paula Mota.
1,032 reviews318 followers
February 11, 2023
#Year of Zambra #1

Ainda não tinha terminado “Facsímil-Múltipla Escolha”, o meu primeiro contacto com Alejandro Zambra, quando me senti impelida a ver como seria uma obra mais linear deste chileno. Parece que linearidade não é com ele, pois é esta a frase de abertura de “Bonsai”:

No final ela morre e ele fica sozinho, embora na realidade tivesse ficado sozinho vários anos antes da morte dela, de Emília. Digamos que ela chama-se [sic] ou chamava-se Emília e que ele chama-se [sic], chamava-se e continua a chamar-se Júlio. Júlio e Emilia. No final Emilia morre e Júlio não morre. O resto é literatura.

Não é só na forma que Zambra é subversivo, começando aqui pelo final, é também na própria abordagem da literatura, encarando-a não da habitual forma intelectual e espiritual mas conferindo-lhe carnalidade.

A partir de então isto de ler em voz alta – em voz baixa – tornou-se um hábito todas as noites, antes de foder. Leram “El Libro de Monelle”, de Marcel Schwob, e “O Templo Dourado”, de Yukio Mishima, que lhes foram razoáveis fontes de inspiração erótica. (...) Até fragmentos de Nietzsche e de Émile Cioran leram.

A esta pose de enfant terrible que muito aprecio, junta-se o tom assertivo que é ainda mais do meu gosto:

Emília disse-o primeiro do que o pensou: estás na mesma. Estás na mesma, continuas a ser assim, assim como és. E eu continuo assado, sempre fui assado, e agora talvez te conte que em Madrid consegui ser ainda mais assado, completamente assado.

É uma novela melancólica sobre as dores do crescimento, mas não está privada de humor:

Todos os homens da família tinham passado por Isidora, uma mulher ainda jovem, com umas ancas milagrosas e uma certa propensão para o romantismo, que acedia atendê-los, embora já não fosse o que se chama uma puta, uma puta mesmo puta: agora, e procurava deixá-lo bem claro, trabalhava como secretária de um advogado.

“Bonsai” é um livro em miniatura, bem moldado e aparado, sobre o qual não devo adiantar mais, que aborda o primeiro amor, a solidão, as opções de vida e a inevitabilidade do fim.

Ambos sabiam que, como se diz, o final já estava escrito, o final deles, dos jovens tristes que lêem romances juntos, que despertam com livros perdidos entre as mantas, que fumam muita marijuana e escutam canções que não são as mesmas quando estão separados. (...) A fantasia de ambos era, pelo menos, terminar Proust, esticar a corda durante mais sete volumes e a que a última palavra (a palavra Tempo) fosse também a última palavra prevista entre eles.
Profile Image for Franco  Santos.
484 reviews1,358 followers
February 9, 2018
Pfff. A menudo se habla sobre que la simplicidad es amiga del arte. Sin embargo, me he encontrado con muchos autores que utilizan la simpleza como recurso explícito a fin de ocultar no tener nada (importante) que decir. Bonsái, en mi opinión, es uno de esos libros que palidecen ante su falta de sustancia. No me animo a decir que Bonsái sea una pésima obra, pero no logró en ningún momento provocar algo bueno en mí como lector. Noté un intento de tapar dicha falta de sustancia con ardides groseros, como el constante name-dropping o una prosa metaficcional que deja mucho que desear. Lo volveré a intentar con Zambra, pero no será una prioridad.
Profile Image for Lynne King.
494 reviews676 followers
September 15, 2013
A bonsai has to be nurtured and truly loved or else it will die; likewise, unless one does the same thing with human love, that will also die.

This is a philosophical, thought provoking novella (so I have a tautology here but I like it even though it’s extraneous as it adds necessary substance to the wording) and I was charmed and delighted by it all.

This is not really a novella but a short story and it can be read in little more than an hour. Nevertheless, in spite of its brevity, it runs the gamut of your average novel of say 250,000 words in its intensity, soul and concentrated structure. This is a remarkable feat for an author to achieve, especially with the hidden layers being gradually revealed within the fabric of this remarkable book. I’m not at all surprised that it was so acclaimed in Chile, especially being a debut novel.

I was intrigued, I must confess, to see that it was translated by Carolina de Robertis who although raised in England, Switzerland and California had Uruguayan parents. Surely it would have been better with a Chilean translator who would know all the literary nuances relating to the language of that country?

Alejandro Zambra has excelled as a master of literary contradictions. The story is spell-binding. He has achieved this by a literary style that appears simple but brings to life the “average” story of two students, Julio and Emilia, who become lovers. On the surface this is a couple who like each other and appreciate their sexual romps. But there’s something extra in the mix that is also rather different about them – they are both very literary in the way in which they love and devour their books and they have an unusual symbiotic relationship. That on the surface is a good thing but when they begin reading aloud their various works to each other, an imperceptible change is noticed and the cracks begin to appear in their love for one another. They read fragments of Nietzche and Emile Cioran, Borges, Bioy CXasares and Silvina Ocampo and then they arrive “at “Tantalia” a short story by Macedonioi Fernandez that affected them profoundly:

“Tantalia” is the story of a couple that decides to buy a small plant (the implication here is that this is the bonsai mentioned here) and keep it as a symbol of the love that unites them. They realize too late that if the plant dies, the love that unites them will die with it. And as the love that unites them is immense and they are not willing to sacrifice it for any reason, they decide to lose the little plant in a multitude of identical little plants. Later comes the despair, then misfortune of knowing they will never be able to find it.”

Then we go into the role play of Emma in Madame Bovary. Both refused to play Charles but their good sex life continues. There is this wonderful Spanish verb used, follar, and I wonder if the translator has indeed translated it correctly. I don’t like the English term used (beginning with s…), but perhaps that was the only choice? Our exuberant couple then cruised through Chekhov, Kafka but at this stage the damage had already been created within the labyrinth of their perfect love.

I think that their relationship should have stopped here whilst it was still on a high here but then Proust raises his ugly head and then deception enters with a vengeance. Both had lied by saying that they had read Proust, i.e. “À la recherche du temps perdu” — or Remembrance of Things Past — a novel in seven volumes. You see they hadn’t read Proust before because they had a big secret in that they had never read any of his novels and both insisted that this was a reread.” That’s a trifle complicated surely?

“They stopped on “page 372 of Swann’s Way”. It was the following sentence that was the reason:

“Knowledge of a thing cannot impede it; but at least we have the things we discover, if not in our hands, at least in thought, and there they are at our disposal, which inspires us to the illusory hope of enjoying a kind of dominion over them.”

What is so delightful about this book are the continuous contradictions and then you begin to wonder about the ending. It isn’t until Mariá enters the equation that you can even remotely guess the outcome. To see the comparisons between Madrid, Spain and Chile also adds an extra dimension to this story.

The ending was perfect for me. There couldn’t have been any other and it was glorious in its mystery.

I read this short story after a very annoying day proofreading a translation by a very bad translator. I had been offered the translation but it would have taken forever and so I opted for the proofreading and when I found I had had to more or less to re-translate it, I was livid. Because of this, I was not in the right frame of mind and also troubled with my own interpretation of the book. So I had to re-set the scene and reread the book. Now how would I play that? Would enlightenment occur? I hoped so. I was prepared to abandon it I must confess. There are so many other delicious books around to read.

I went to bed and woke up at 4 am. It was a clear sky and the stars were twinkling away as is their want. I returned to my warm, comforting bed and woke up again at 7 am. The normal dawn chorus had been replaced bya cacophony of jays and crows. Where was my beautiful and normal dawn chorus? The darkness was beginning to disappear and so I sat on the terrace with a black coffee and a tablespoon of honey, I watched the dazzling sun come up and I was soon on my reread. Chloé was out sniffing in the garden and then she disappeared down the hill after some mysterious creature. I looked again at this short story and the scales fell from my eyes and I could finally understand this sparkling diamond of a book.

It is nevertheless difficult to review this book. I found it enthralling but it has such a depth to it that it is difficult to state exactly what I feel. Nevertheless, how Alejandro Zambra managed to write such an amazing book for a debut novel amazes me. Bravo, that’s all I can possibly say.

So as a result I'm looking for another "fix" by this wonderful author and I already have my eyes set on his most recent book!


Profile Image for Paul.
1,217 reviews1,964 followers
January 19, 2023
This is a brief novella, well, more a short story dressed up as a novella. It is a romance, but it is also quite clever:
“Tending a bonsai is like writing, thinks Julio. Writing is like tending a bonsai, Julio thinks.”
There’s plenty more like that.
It is the story of a romance between Julio and Emilia, initially two college students. They read classics together, turning the reading into a game and looking for what might be vaguely sexual or a double entendre before they can have sex!
It’s a bit flimsy and I found it irritating and pretentious, but it is loved by some.
“In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death, Emilia’s death. Let’s say that she is called or was called Emilia and that he is called, was called, and continues to be called Julio. Julio and Emilia. In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die. The rest is literature.”
The rest is boring.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
May 2, 2009
this is mighty short but very nice. there are some really prettily-written moments within. not life-changing, but a good half hour read.
Profile Image for Jolanta (knygupe).
888 reviews189 followers
July 17, 2021
Epitafijos:

Years passed, and the only
person who didn’t change was
the young woman in the book.
  –Yasunari Kawabata

Pain is measured and detailed.  –Gonzalo Millan

Šis trumpas, vos 80-ties puslapių, čilės rašytojo Alejandro Zambra debiutinis romanas - apie tragišką, neišsipildžiusią meilę. Ir čia visai ne spoileris, nes pasakojimas prasideda štai taip:

“In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death, Emilia’s death. Let’s say that she is called or was called Emilia and that he is called, was called, and continues to be called Julio, Julio and Emilia. In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die. The rest is literature:”

Liečiamos čia ir kūrybos, literatūros skaitymo ir rašymo temos. Mane labiausiai žavėjo stilius, sakinių struktūra, tas autoriaus sugebėjimas per minimalų siužetą papasakoti istoriją ir galiausiai tai, kaip Zambra žaidžia su pačiu pasakojimu, jo forma. Totaliai mano knyga.

“Yes, the thing is that Gazmuri writes very well. The way I’m telling it, it seems like a strange story, even melodramatic. But I’m sure Gazmuri knew how to give it form.”

Šiaip jau, siužeto šiame trumpame romane nedaug, tad buvau nustebinta, kuomet užtikau ir filmą sukurtą pagal šią knygą. "Bonsai" (2011). Jo nemačiau, tačiau, įtariu, kad tai du skirtingi kūriniai.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TF8kG...

Leidykla RARA išleis kartu su kitu Alejandro Zambra kūriniu "Privatus medžių gyvenimas".

Beje, savo jaunuolių nesusikalbejimo tema man ji truputį  priminė Rooney “Normalūs žmonės”. Tik "Bonsai" - visiškai kitas lygmuo.  
Profile Image for Sofia.
287 reviews95 followers
May 11, 2019
"Ένα μπονσαι είναι ένα καλλιτεχνικό αντίγραφο ενός δέντρου σε μικρογραφία."
Ένα πετυχημένο διηγημα είναι ένα αντίγραφο ενός μυθιστορήματος σε μικρογραφία, θα προσθέσω εγώ. Πραγματικά όμορφο
Profile Image for Anya.
448 reviews467 followers
March 20, 2018
"She and he, Macedonio’s characters, had and lost a little plant of love. Emilia and Julio—who are not exactly characters, though maybe it’s convenient to think of them as characters—have been reading before shagging for months, it is very pleasant, they think, and sometimes they think it at the same time: it is very pleasant, it is beautiful to read and talk about the reading just before tangling legs. It’s like doing exercise.

It isn’t always easy to find, in the texts, some impetus, however small, to shag, but in the end they manage to locate a paragraph or verse that, when whimsically stretched or perverted, works for them, gets them hot. (They liked that expression, to get hot, that’s why I use it. They liked it almost enough to get hot from it.)"


Such erotic foreplay.

I have been staring at the screen for the last one hour and the only thing I can think of is how incredibly aroused I am. As it turns out, my brain loses its thinking capacity when I am turned on. And turned on I am.

If you asked me, I couldn't tell you what the novella was about. Not exactly. It was about love found and love lost. It was about human intimacy. About loneliness. About madness. About words and what they do to people.

"In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death, Emilia's death. Let's say that she is called or was called Emilia and that he is called, was called, and continues to be called Julio. Julio and Emilia. In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not die.The rest is literature."

My version of the book was only 96 pages long and it took me a little less than half an hour to finish it. But I am certain that this book would be on my mind for a long, long time.

"A bonsai is an artistic replica of a tree, in miniature. It consists of two elements: the living tree and the container. The two elements must be in harmony and the selection of the appropriate pot for a tree is almost an art form in itself. The tree can be a vine, a shrub, or a tree, but it is normally referred to as a tree. The container is normally a flowerpot or an interesting chunk of rock. A bonsai is never called a bonsai tree. The word already includes the living element. Once outside its flowerpot, the tree ceases to be a bonsai...

Caring for a bonsai is like writing, thinks Julio. Writing is like caring for a bonsai, thinks Julio."
Profile Image for A. Raca.
739 reviews152 followers
August 23, 2019
"Ancak hayatını değiştirecek ve mahvedecek birine rastladığında hayatın bir anlamı olur."

💚
Yine baya beğendim.

Bir gecede Zambra'nın tüm kitaplarını bitirmemek için zor tutuyorum kendimi. Mevsim yeterince güzel bir yorum girmiş zaten fazla söze gerek yok.

Ama Kayıp Zamanın İzinde'ye başlamak farz oldu artık. Zambra'yı kıramam :)

İyi okumalar 🌸
Profile Image for María Carpio.
201 reviews62 followers
March 28, 2023
Este libro es un artefacto de alta precisión. Es metaliterario pero va más allá de ello. Es un libro sobre un libro, y se transforma en ese libro. Zambra es un escritor grande, no hay duda. Esta no es una novela sino el resumen de una novela, y el narrador no es solo omnisciente, está fuera del libro, porque está observando la historia que sucede dentro de aquel y la está transcribiendo. Hay un tono un poco cortazariano en la narración y una concepción borgeana de la estructura novelesca. Realmente el juego literario que propone Zambra es innovador o, cuando menos, destellante. Corto, simple y preciso (aunque me falle un poco el final), tiene notas brillantes. Una pluma ágil e ingeniosa la de Zambra en esta su primera novela (que no es novela) y hace maravillas con esos personajes tan típicos suyos, que parecen sosos pero sus vidas dan giros no tan sosos y que regresan a la sosería después de transitar los espacios mágicos de la ficción. En este caso, Julio y Emilia, un romance para follar y leer libros, un libro sobre unos amantes y una planta que es el augurio del fin de su relación, que terminará en la página 375 de Por el camino de Swann de Proust. Esto solo es el principio. Después vendrá Julio como el escribidor del escritor que casi nadie ha leído, la novela trunca, la novela Bonsai y el Bonsai, y la muerte en las vías del tren. No diré más para no arruinar la experiencia lectora. Recomendadísimo. Voy a tener que dosificar a Zambra para que no se me acabe.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,304 followers
August 16, 2022
They both knew, as the saying goes, the ending was already written - their ending, that of the sad young people who read novels together, who wake up with books tangled in the blankets, who smoke a lot of weed and listen to song that aren't the same ones they like best when they're alone.

Bonsai is Megan McDowell's translation of Alejandro Zambra's novella Bonsái. Or rather re-translation since the book had already been translated into English 14 years previously by Carolina De Robertis. See below for my thoughts on that aspect.

Bonsai is a knowingly meta-fictional novella based on a relationship between two young Chilean students, Julio and Emilia, and its aftermath. The book starts by telling us how the story ends - with the death of Emilia.

Their relationship is built in a shared love of books - they even use literature as an erotic stimulus - but also on a lie, and the beginning of the end of their relationship comes when they read the story Tantalia by Macedonio Fernández:

The first lie Julio told Emilia was that he had read Marcel Proust. He didn’t usually lie about his reading, but that second night, when they both knew they were starting something, and that however long it lasted, this something was going to be important – that night, Julio deepened his voice, feigning intimacy, and said that, yes, he had read Proust when he was seventeen, during a summer in Quintero. By that time no one in his family summered in Quintero—not even Julio’s parents, who had met at El Durazno beach, ever went to Quintero, a lovely beach town that according to them just wasn’t what it used to be, now that it had been overrun by the masses. Anyway, Julio said, at seventeen he had commandeered his grandparents’ summerhouse so he could shut himself in and read In Search of Lost Time. It was a lie, of course: he had gone to Quintero that summer, and he had read a lot, but he’d read Jack Kerouac, Heinrich Böll, Vladimir Nabokov, Truman Capote, and Enrique Lihn, not Marcel Proust.

That same night, Emilia lied to Julio for the first time, and the lie was, also, that she’d read Marcel Proust. At first she merely agreed: I read Proust too. But then there was a long, pregnant pause, which wasn’t an uncomfortable silence but rather an expectant one, so Emilia had to complete the story: I read it recently, just last year, it took me like five months, I was really busy, as you know, with classes. But I decided to read all seven volumes and those were truly the most important months of my life as a reader.

She used that expression: my life as a reader – she said that those had been, without a doubt, the most important months of her life as a reader.


One of my Goodreads friends, David (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1...), commented that this gave him Sally Rooney vibes, and I can certainly see where he is coming from.

Overall I found this a very slight work - one that seemed to have a lot of buzz around it from when it was first published and translated, but I am unclear why. And I am unconvinced the re-translation really adds anything.

2.5 stars rounded to 2

----

(Re-)Translation notes

Bonsái in Spanish was Zambra's debut novel in 2006 was translated into English in 2008 by Carolina De Robertis and published in the US, but not the UK.

From 2010 on McDowell translated the author's other works - The Private Lives of Trees, Ways of Going Home, My Documents, Multiple Choice, Not to Read and Chilean Poet - and agreed to retranslate this book for it's UK publication as "I do have an urge towards completism, and now I can say I have translated all of Alejandro’s books", rather than having any issues with the previous version. She's also said she didn't consult the previous version until the very end of her process, just to check how De Robertis had dealt with some issues. "This is the first retranslation I have done, and I’m not really sure how much it will be compared to the original, or if anyone will really care or notice."

Well if one retranslates a book, then this reader at least is tempted to compare. I'm not a massive fan of re-translations (unless the original had major problems, which isn't the case here) given the dearth of untranslated books to tackle, but can just about see the logic here in terms of completism, although it doesn't feel to have meaningfully changed the book.

De Robertis, at the time, commented that much of the translation was very smooth due to Zambra's 'limpid, lean and deceptively simple' prose. And this is reflected in the translations - having compared various passages - being largely very similar.

De Robertis did highlight two issues, one a passage contrasting different Chilean and Spanish dialect slang for sex, with the challenge of how to render that in English:

The passage:

Poco antes de enredarse con Julio, Emilia había decidido que en adelante follaría, como los españoles, ya no haría el amor con nadie, ya no tiraría o se metería con alguien, ni mucho menos culearía o culiaría. Este es un problema chileno, dijo Emilia, entonces, a Julio, con una soltura que solo le nada en la oscuridad, y en voz muy baja, desde luego: Este es un problema de los chilenos jóvenes, somos demasiado jóvenes para hacer el amor, y en Chile si no haces el amor solo puedes culear o culiar, pero a mí no me gustaría culiar o culear contigo, preferiría que folláramos, como en España.

De Robertis:

Shortly before getting involved with Julio, Emilia had decided that from now on she would follar, as the Spanish do, she would no longer make love with anyone, she would not screw or bone anybody, and much less would she fuck. This is a Chilean problem, Emilia said, then, to Julio, with an ease that only came to her in the darkness, and in a very low voice, of course: This is a problem for Chilean youth, we're too young to make love, and in Chile if you don't make love you can only fuck, but it would be disagreeable to fuck you, I'd prefer it if we shagged, si follaramos, as they do in Spain.

McDowell, who uses a similar technique, but uses two not one untranslated Spanish words, and (not surprisingly given the lack of direct equivalents) uses different, indeed opposite, English slang:

Not long before she got mixed up with Julio, Emilia had decided that from then on she was going to fuck -what the Spanish call 'foliar' — and she would no longer make love with anyone or hook up with anyone, much less would she screw, or 'culiar', as a Chilean would say. This is a Chilean problem, Emilia said to Julio, with a boldness she only displayed in the dark — though in a very low voice, of course: This is the problem with young Chileans. We're too young to make love, and in Chile, if you don't make love you can only culiar, but I don't want to screw you, I'd rather follar, I'd rather fuck you like they do in Spain.

The second is where the narrator describes their tale as a 'historia de ilusiones', which De Robertis comments is a classic translation condundrum

In Spanish, that word means both “illusions” and “hopes.” Which one does he mean here? He leaves this for readers to interpret — a beautiful ambiguity that’s impossible to replicate in English, where we have no single word to hold both meanings. I couldn’t bear to render the word as only “illusions” or only “hopes,” as it felt that half the book’s secret themes would be left behind. My imperfect compromise was to reach for both meanings, even if it meant using more words: “This is a book of illusory hopes.”


McDowell just goes for the simpler 'story of illusions'.

Comments by the translators:

McDowell: https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/inter...
De Robertis: https://www.mhpbooks.com/qa-with-caro...
Profile Image for João Carlos.
646 reviews277 followers
April 21, 2017


”Bonsai” (2006) é o primeiro romance do poeta e escritor chileno Alejandro Zambra (n. 1975).
Efectivamente o romance ou a novela de Alejandro Zambra tem muitas semelhanças com um bonsai - uma arte ancestral japonesa que através de uma primorosa técnica florestal cria uma “árvore” em miniatura, como uma réplica, semelhante a uma árvore que se desenvolve na natureza -, porque são ambos incontestavelmente pequenos; o romance ou a novela tem apenas 79 páginas; percebendo-se a designação de romance-bonsai.
A história de Emília e Júlio, dois jovens, estudantes universitários, apaixonados, pela literatura e pelo sexo, é muito simples e básica, e pode-se resumir – através das primeiras linhas: ”No final ela morre e ele fica sozinho, embora na realidade tivesse ficado sozinho vários anos antes da morte dela, de Emília. Digamos que ela chama-se ou chamava-se Emília e que ele chama-se, chamava-se e continua a chamar-se Júlio. Júlio e Emília. No final Emília morre. O resto é literatura:”
”Na história de Emília e Júlio, (…), há mais omissões que mentiras, e menos omissões que verdades, dessas verdades que se chamam absolutas e que costumam ser incómodas. (Pág. 20); e é justamente com a mentira de terem lido ou não ”Em Busca do Tempo Perdido” do Marcel Proust - ambos mentem – que avança uma relação pejada de verdades e de revelações íntimas; em que ”As esquisitices de Júlio e Emília não eram só sexuais (que as havia), nem emocionais (que abundavam), mas também, digamos literárias.” (Pág. 27)
Alejandro Zambra, através do narrador, vai relatando fragmentos de vários episódios de Emília e Júlio durante vários anos, numa estrutura narrativa em que o sexo e as citações literárias – de inúmeros escritores como: Marcel Proust, Vladimir Nabakov, Truman Capote, Heinrich Boll, Jack Kerouac, Raymond Carver, e muitos, muitos mais; e numerosas obras literárias – dominam, e arrastam o leitor para a obsessão literária e para a atmosfera opressiva em que se desenvolve a narrativa.
O que é mais relevante em ”Bonsai” é que Alejandro Zambra domina a escrita com um estilo em que nada é acessório, num romance – curto – que pode ter vários níveis de leitura sobre o amor, as relações amorosas e a literatura.
Profile Image for David.
1,458 reviews
April 2, 2017
¡Genio! Absolutely brilliant.

This short novela (94 pages) is such a treat to read. The word play, the literary connections, and the "lightness of being" aspect brings out a sad tale of two lovers. Their failed but steamy relationship and the tragic connections with life and their friends makes this book easy and yet disturbing read.

The symbolism to the bonsai is a wonderful reflection of the lovers. "It has two elements: the living tree and the recipient. The two elements have to be in harmony and the selection of the pot appropriate for the tree is almost a form of art". This book is the art form to tell the story. "The rest is literature."
Profile Image for Sophia.
404 reviews52 followers
October 9, 2017
Πως γίνεται μια τόσο ολοκληρωμένη ιστορία να χώρεσε σε λιγότερες από 100 σελίδες;
Πως γίνεται μια τέτοια ιστορία, τόσο απλή και καθημερινή, να σε γεμίζει με τόσες σκέψεις και συναισθήματα;
Πως γίνεται μια απλή ιστορία να μην σου προξενεί απορίες όπως "τι έγινε μετά; τι έγινε πριν; τι έγινε με τον τάδε και τον δείνα" και να σε ικανοποιεί σε τέτοιο βαθμό που δεν σε νοιάζει τίποτα, παρά μόνο αυτά που ένιωσες και σκέφτηκες;
Πως γίνεται να θες να το διαβάζεις συνέχεια;

Λογοτεχνία = μαγεία !

Για την κατηγορία B.R.A.CE. 2017 ένα βιβλίο με λιγότερες από 150 σελίδες
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
April 3, 2017
”Um romance terno e delicado como um Bonsai literário.”

Não gosto de bonsais que, para mim, não passam de uns arbustos torcidos e sem graça, que vivem atrofiados num vaso; plantinhas frágeis que exigem dos seus protectores uma atenção permanente para que não cresçam nem morram. Já fui ama-seca de alguns, nas férias dos “pais”, e passei por grandes aflições; um dia voou-me um da janela (porque as criaturas precisam de uma nesga de sol) e quase fui presa por tentativa de homicídio de um transeunte. Adiante… Apesar da minha falta de estima por estes arbustos raquíticos, depositei algum entusiasmo neste “Bonsai literário”.

Comecei a lê-lo na hora e meia que dedico à leitura depois de almoço; ao fim de meia estava despachado e fiquei sem nada para ocupar o resto do tempo. Aproveitei para ler Tantalia de Macedonio Fernández, na esperança de nele encontrar algum sentido para Bonsai, mas não percebi nada.

Este romance (?) conta a história de dois jovens namorados que antes do "truca-truca" leem sempre um livro para aquecer. É um regabofe de nomes de escritores, alguns com oferta do título da obra, sendo dada especial relevância a duas obras literárias: Em Busca do Tempo Perdido - com que os amantes se enganam dizendo já terem lido e que “releem” até à página 372 (não percebi porquê) -; Tantalia do Macedonio, em que Zambra nos presenteia com um pequeno resumo, que me pareceu ter servido para justificar o título do livro.

A minha costela presunçosa diz que Zambra anotou uns tópicos para escrever um romance mas não o escreveu. Publicou o que tinha e os seus leitores, deslumbrados com tanta originalidade, que se desengomassem a decifrar o que ele pretendia contar.
A minha costela humilde diz que eu sou apoucada, com cérebro bonsai, e não percebi nada dos significados ocultos deste livro profundo, mas relatado de forma minimalista - uma coisa muito chique e moderna.

"No final ela morre e ele fica sozinho, embora na realidade tivesse ficado sozinho vários anos antes da morte dela, de Emília. Digamos que ela se chama ou chamava-se Emília e que ele chama-se, chamava-se e continua a chamar-se Júlio. Júlio e Emília. No final Emília morre e Júlio não morre. O resto é literatura:"
— Alejandro Zambra, Bonsai (primeiro parágrafo)

"Era uma vez um homem chamado Albinus que vivia em Berlim, na Alemanha. Era rico, respeitável, feliz; certo dia abandonou a mulher por causa de uma amante jovem; amava; não era amado; e a sua vida acabou em desastre.
Isto é a história toda e podíamos tê-la deixado por aqui se não fosse o proveito e o prazer no contar."

— Vladimir Nabokov, Riso na Escuridão (primeiro parágrafo)


Primeiros parágrafos semelhantes, nos quais se resume todo o enredo, em que o autor pretenderá dizer que o importante num romance não é a história mas sim a forma de a contar. Nabokov faz tudo muito melhor do que Zambra, como se pode comprovar logo no início dos dois livros. Deve ser por isso que eu gosto tanto de clássicos e cada vez acredito menos nos novos autores.
Profile Image for Burak.
196 reviews112 followers
October 10, 2020
Bonzai tek oturuşta bitirilebilecek kadar kısa bir metin olmasına rağmen hayret uyandıracak kadar da etkileyici. Zambra az cümleyle okurda derin duygular uyandırabiliyor, çok fazla şey anlatabiliyor. Hikayeyi lineer bir zaman çizgisinde anlatmak yerine sanki olayları aklına geldiğince anlatıyormuş gibi zamanda bir ileri bir geri gitmesi ise daha uzun bir eserde yorucu olabilirdi ama böyle bir kısa roman/uzun öyküde oldukça güzel bir etki yaratmış.

Gücünü anlatımının sadeliğinden alan eserleri oldum olası sevmişimdir (Genazino'ya, Yu Hua'ya, Barış Bıçakçı'ya selam olsun!), Zambra da bu listenin üst sıralarına adını yazdırdı. Diğer eserlerini de okumak için sabırsızlanıyorum.
Profile Image for Darryl Suite.
522 reviews417 followers
February 20, 2023
I read this twice, which is no biggie because it’s only 79 pages long. This novel really intrigued me; I’m slightly obsessed (might bump up that rating).

The first paragraph tells you how the story is going to resolve: “In the end Emilia dies and Julio does not. The rest is literature.” That last sentence is key because Zambra makes sure to remind us, various times throughout the text, that what we’re reading is just a story and not anything real, which is quite the flex considering this is supposed to be a love story. It’s like he deconstructed a romance to such a clinical degree that we really shouldn’t be feeling anything, yet managed to make us feel something even more profound than expected. I don’t know how he did it or how/why I feel that way. The last couple of pages were gorgeous to me.

Enjoyed this clever literary experiment even though I get why some people hate it( totally get that). The symbolism of that Proust scene was enough to get me to stan though. I think I’ll come back to this review when I’m able to collect my thoughts. In the meantime, I’m going to add “The Private Lives of Trees” to my cart; read an excerpt and I NEED THAT.
Profile Image for Doug.
2,042 reviews743 followers
January 18, 2020
As with Multiple Choice, the only other Zambra work I've read, I liked it well enough, just was left kind of wondering what all the fuss is about (since this has won major awards). It is sparse and can easily be read in about an hour, but didn't leave a huge impression on me - but I am curious it was turned into a film, since there doesn't really seem to be much of a plot to warrant such.
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