Posted by: biblioglobal | February 2, 2013

Chile (Book-from-very-country #33)


by Alejandro Zambra

Translated from Spanish by Carolina de Robertis


I have to categorize this one under “I just didn’t get it.” (Or possibly, “Not to my taste”) All the commentaries about Bonsai talk about it as a watershed in Chilean literature. Clearly there is something I am missing, but none of the reviews I’ve read have enlightened me as to what it is.

Bonsai is a short novella, intended as a sort of bonsai-book. The concept appealed to me but I think it led me to read the book with the wrong expectations- that the writing style would be tightly crafted and highly evocative. While the language was certainly carefully crafted, it was not in the least evocative. Rather, the narration was distant and cynical, telling the story of a love affair while not caring in the least about the characters. As a result I couldn’t connect with the characters either. The book does have some interesting layers of self-reference, such as a when a character says that 40 page novellas are trendy in Chile. Bonsai is actually longer than 40 pages, but apparently at one point in the writing process was 40 pages long. That the recursion is just a little bit off is typical of Bonsai’s self-references.

I feel like I’m displaying my ignorance in this post and that I’m criticizing the book because I’m just not literary enough to understand what the author is trying to do. Have you read Bonsai? Can you help me understand it better?



  1. I’ve never read it – but could it be something that was lost in translation? (Assuming you didn’t read it in the original language of course.)

    • It’s always possible of course, but my guess would be not. The language seemed fairly plain and straightforward. So I wouldn’t expect it to be especially hard to translate.

      • No idea then. Hopefully your next book is more fulfilling!

  2. Haven’t read this one, but have had many of those, “I don’t get it moments.” Sometimes a novel, no matter how good or bad, just doesn’t click.

    • That’s a good attitude to keep in mind- for whatever reason something might not click. And it doesn’t have to be a judgement on myself as a reader!

  3. […] interesting to see if that boosts the ratings. The book that according to me is most over-rated is Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra. I think that one comes down to personal taste. It’s apparently quite a […]

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