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THE FAMOUS MAGICIAN by César Aira
Translated by Chris Andrews
César Aira is the reigning king of the novella, so it was a no brainer to include him in the New Directions storybook series. While The Famous Magician may be one of his slighter tales (this is a new translation of an oldish book), it fits well with what seems to be a common ND Storybook thread of lighter, more fun books that play into that childhood nostalgia vibe.
Here a writer (ostensibly Aira) happens upon a magician who offers him the Faustian trade of his writerly powers for the ability to perform the ultimate magic trick: world domination. His friends warn him against it, saying the magician is a known charlatan. He, too, questions the value of the deal. But he is intrigued by the parallels.
At this point the metaphor feels rather heavy-handed (Get it? Writing is magic, an act of conjuring? Yeah…) but Aira is a master and has a way with denouement. The inevitable showdown ensues and it suddenly goes all Purple Rose of Cairo with a sledgehammer to the fourth wall. Sure, it doesn’t make for the most subtle meditation on the… ahem… magic of writing, but it’s a pretty spot-on storybook ending.
The Famous Magician by César Aira (Tr. Chris Andrews)
New Directions, 2022