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Talking Trees

Private_small This post is about a book for adults.

Alejandro Zambra's novella The Private Lives of Trees takes place during only one night. A writer waits for his wife to come home from class, and tucks his eight-year-old step-daughter into bed, telling her stories before she goes to sleep. Later, he fills in the void of his wife's unexplained absence, and the anxiety it causes, by imagining different scenarios (a car accident, an affair). 

It's a book about stories, revision, and the unconscious tendency to fill gaps with narration. Some of the reviewers use terms like minimalist, postmodern, and meta-fiction in reference to Zambra's book, but don't let that put you off. The gently odd and witty tales that the step-father tells the little girl about the trees completely charmed me; I could imagine them as a very unusual kids' book. Zambra writes,

The protagonists are a poplar tree and a baobab tree, who, at night, when no one can see them, talk about photosynthesis, squirrels, or the many advantages of being trees and not people or animals or, as they put it themselves, stupid hunks of cement.

Alejandro Zambra is a Chilean poet, novelist, and critic. The Private Lives of Trees (Open Letter Books, 2010) was translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell.

The Nation ran a piece about Zambra's work a couple of years ago: "Seed Projects: The Fiction of Alejandro Zambra," by Marcela Valdes.


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Sounds lovely, must find it. Thanks!

Steph, I think you'd like it! Very short book--I was amazed at what Z. could do without rushing.

Sounds interesting! What a great quote.

MT, I just loved the part about "the many advantages of being trees." Endearing & odd.

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