A Forward Flight of Narration: The Seamstress and the Wind

08/03/2011 4:00 AM |

The Seamstress and the Wind

by César Aira, Trans. Rosalie Knecht

(New Directions)

Argentine writer César Aira composes novellas by dint of procedural edict: he writes slowly, and by hand, and at cafés, adding a page or so a day until he wrests himself from the hold of the variably plausible intrigues he sets in motion, an accumulation to an unraveling that he then refuses to revisit for revisions. He calls this process a fuga hacia adelante, a forward flight of narration, and the tales that result mix genres, morph narrators, bend genders and knot plots before winding down at around a hundred pages.

It is this process that lies at the heart—or flutters at the feathered feet—of The Seamstress and the Wind, a tale of kidnapping and pursuit and flight unto love that does quite precipitously escape into itself. Unfurling in Coronel Pringles, Aira’s childhood hometown, the story’s sails billow as Delia Siffoni, the titular seamstress, recruits a taxi driver to chase after a trucker who has kidnapped, by happenstance, her son. As they race and swirl south through the increasingly surreal landscape of Patagonia, Delia’s husband and a pregnant bride-to-be follow suit. A flying wedding gown and a baby monster soon join the foray, then Ventarrón, the titular wind, is introduced. An airy tale of romance and salvation then commences, interrupted on occasion by externalized fantasies and narratorial reflections on structural self-awareness.

Since only a handful of Aira’s approximately eighty novellas are currently available in English, Rosalie Knecht has done readers a service in translating another. But her largely word-for-word rendering, albeit passable, adheres too closely to the original, La costurera y el viento, without reproducing its breezy fluidity. If you have yet to read Aira at all and would prefer greater lexical elegance in your introduction, try Ghosts (New Directions, 2009), handled deftly by seasoned translator Chris Andrews.