Birthday by César Aira

This short work by a prolific author, translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews, is almost exactly what I was expecting–a brief interlude written by a man musing on his perception of reality while an important birthday passes.  

“Suddenly it hits you: you’re not twenty; you’re not young any more . . . and in the meantime, while you were thinking about something else, the world has changed.”

César Aira, Bithday

He begins with an embarrassing anecdote about never really learning the science behind the phases of the moon. Recently he made a joke about the earth creating a shadow across the moon. His wife corrected him. It was then he realized that his entire life he’d been wrong about something he just assumed he knew, a fact of reality he had never questioned before and one which was never contradicted throughout his youth. He tries to backtrack, to discover when he first assumed a shadow created the moon’s phases. It brings him back to his youth in Colonel Pringles, Buenos Aires Province, where he sits in a cafe and writes this volume.

I enjoyed the meandering prose, but mostly because Aira’s writing is so sincere. As slim as the volume is, there’s weight to his words. There’s a passage that will stay with me: “I subscribe to the unoriginal theory that what makes a person unique and different from everyone else is a sum of particular experiences accumulated over the course of an existence… Reading a book, of course, is an experience too, and the sum of books that a person has read makes him or her unique as a reader.”

So the books we read comprise our unique fingerprint, and we only have so many minutes, hours, days to read what we can in one lifetime. The reminder of that had me spiraling a bit. I’m 30–so for the last 20 or so years, what I’ve read on the shelves of the personal library of my mind has made me who I am. And what I choose to read from this point forward with the measly time I have left will compose the rest of me. The pressure is real.

Pick up this book if you’re interested in having a conversation with a very interesting human about what it means to be of a certain age during this certain time in history.  Reflection on mortality can come with a smile.

Thanks to Net Galley for the pre-pub copy in exchange for an honest review.

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