Book review: Alejandro Zambra’s “Ways of Going Home”

Ways of Going HomeWays of Going Home (Farrar Straus and Giroux) by Alejandro Zambra is two books in one.

The book begins with an earthquake in 1985 in Maipú, a suburb of Santiago, Chile. The nine-year-old narrator, meets a girl, Claudia, who lives with her uncle and mother. Claudia asks the narrator to spy on her mysterious uncle and report back to him. Then the girl moves away.

The book then switches to a 30-year-old man who is writing that story. He is in the midst of separating from his wife, Eme, who has inspired the story. The narrator also draws from his own life, as the reader can see in his visits to his parents.

Eventually, he gets back to the story, where the narrator has grown up and reunites with Claudia – who reveals her family secrets.

The book is 138 pages, just the right size for a book that has mostly dialogue and internal narrative and not much action.

Zambra, who is often compared to another Chilean writer, Roberto Bolaño, describes life in Pinochet-era Chile – including a harrowing but brief scene in which a teacher fears he is being attacked in a classroom – but he excels in his observations about the relationship between parents and children.

“We go home and it’s as if we were returning from war, but from a war that isn’t over. I think, We’ve become deserters. I think, We’ve become war correspondents, tourists. That’s what we are, I think: tourists who arrive with their backpacks, their cameras, and their notebooks, prepared to spend a long time wearing out their eyes, but who suddenly decide to go home, and as they do they breathe a long sigh of relief.”

I didn’t feel particularly connected to the main character, except in the first – and strongest – part of the book, when the boy is young and innocent. The older character is more distant and cold, perhaps a reflection of aging.

“I got over to the little shelf holding the old family photo albums. That’s what these albums are for, I think: to make us believe we were happy as children. To show ourselves that we don’t want to accept how happy we were.”

It makes you wish he never lost his innocence. Ways of Going Home is much like life – adventurous and full of curiosity in the beginning, and a bit melancholy and weary as time moves on.

AlejandroZambraMore about Alejandro Zambra:

A native of Santiago, Chile, Zambra has written two other novels, The Private Lives of Trees and Bonsai. The novel was translated by Megan McDowell.

Source: I purchased this book from Amazon.com.

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Filed under 2013 Books, Book Reviews, Fiction

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