Ema the Captive (Paperback)

Ema the Captive Cover Image
By César Aira, Chris Andrews (Translated by)
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December 2016 Indie Next List

“Ema, the Captive is a gentle meditation on the natural world in its grotesqueness and its beauty, humanity's place within it, and the effect that human progress has had on both. With his usual incredible attention to detail and in measured, lucid prose, Aira somehow turns this tale into a page-turner, the kind of feat only he could accomplish.”
— Justin Souther (E), Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, NC


Ema The Captive, César Aira’s second novel, is perhaps closest in style to his popular An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and The Hare

In nineteenth-century Argentina, Ema, a delicate woman of indeterminate origins, is captured by soldiers and taken, along with with her newborn babe, to live as a concubine in a crude fort on the very edges of civilization. The trip is appalling (deprivations and rapes prevail along the way), yet the real story commences once Ema arrives at the fort, where she takes on a succession of lovers among the soldiers and Indians, leading to a brave and grand entrepreneurial experiment. As is usual with Aira’s work, the wonder of the book is in the details of customs, beauty, and language, and the curious, perplexing reality of human nature.

About the Author

Nominated for a Neustadt award and the Man Booker International Prize, César Aira was born in Coronel Pringles, Argentina, in 1949. He has published at least one hundred books and recently created a limited edition, “Valise,” for the Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

The poet Chris Andrews teaches at the University of Western Sydney, Australia, where he is a member of the Writing and Society Research Centre. He has translated books by Roberto Bolano and César Aira for New Directions. He has won the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize for his poetry and the Valle-Inclan Prize for his translations.

Praise For…

Cesar Aira's body of work is a perfect machine for invention.
— Maria Moreno

Playing with recycled images, stretching tired tropes until they deform,
Aira is fascinated by how defining and describing reality, however
absurdly, can end up creating a new reality in that image.

Aira's novel delivers a truly unique contribution to literature.
— Diego Baez

In this magical little Frisbee of a novel by the prolific Argentine, a kidnapped woman seduces her captors in a fort at the edge of civilization, turning the tables on their power.

Uncanny imagination a la Calvino.
— Laura Pearson

Aira's works are slim cabinets of wonder, full of unlikely juxtapositions. His unpredictability is masterful.
— Rivka Galchen

An elegant, almost ethereal story of one woman's survival.

This sidelong way of looking at Kafka is uniquely rewarding, eschewing the organizing and narrative principles of biography just as Kafka himself so often eschewed the organizing and narrative principles of fiction.
— Morten Høi Jensen

His latest book to be translated, Ema the Captive, is not only one of his earliest books—it may be his finest. As such, it also works as a perfect introduction to the Aira universe. The world of Ema is lush and fantastic, but never overbearing; the reader is immersed in a landscape still teetering on the edge of innocence, awash with animals and scents almost impossible to imagine in our modern times. From body-painting to lantern-lit caves to the mating of manatees, the world that Ema—and the lucky reader—inhibit is wondrous and new, even if it’s the imagined past.

— Mark Haber

Unsettling and elegant parables.

"Aira is firmly in the tradition of Jorge Luis Borges and W. G. Sebald, those great late modernists for whom fiction was a theater of ideas."
— Mark Doty

"What a gift: to look forward to reading a new Aira novel from New Directions every year for the rest of one's life."
— Thomas McGonigle

Despite the earliness with which Ema was created in Aira’s career, it
appears fully realized with its own urgency and odd power. Aira’s rigor,
which Rivka Galchen has described as one normally reserved for
scientific or philosophical inquiry, remains at odds with his
characteristic arbitrariness.

One of the Argentine master's oldest works, Ema is also one of his most memorable. César Aira is a creature of seemingly endless invention.

— Juan Vidal

A Lampoon of our need for narrative. No one today does megafiction like Aira.
— Robyn Creswell

César Aira is the undisputed master of the short philosophical novel—and he manages to churn out a new one every few years. Like all of his books, Ema the Captive is an ideal place to start reading Aira. This story of an Argentinian woman's time as a captive concubine is a powerful novel worth reading ASAP.
— Lucas Iberico Lozada

Genius. Cesar Aira is a deconstructed Kafka; a compact comprehensible Roberto Bolano obsessed with the frightening nonsense of civilization.
— Joe Gallagher

"Logic-defying brilliance."
— Ema The Captive

Irreverent inventiveness...without analogue in contemporary literature.
— Megan Doll

"A quixotic chemist."
— Michael H. Miller

Aira stresses the sublime without falling back on the props of magical realism.
— Cristopher byrd

Cesar Aira is wild. The laws of gravity do not apply.
— James S. A. Correy

"One of Argentina's leading contemporary writers."
— William Skidelsky

Cesar Aira is the energizer bunny of Latin American literature.
— Tess Lewis

"Everything in Aira has that Mad Scientist feel to it."
— Ema The Captive

"His novels are eccentric clones of reality, where the lights are brighter, the picture is sharper, and everything happens at the speed of thought."
— Jacob Mikanowski

"Cesar Aira is Argentina's greatest living author."
— Marcela Valdes

A distinctive hallucinatory style, which blends together reality and fiction, the waking world and the dream world.
— Chloe Schama

"Aira seems fascinated by the idea of storytelling as invention, invention as improvisation, and improvisation as transgression, as getting away with something."
— Ema The Captive

Aira’s works are dense, unpredictable confections delivered in a plain, stealthily lyrical style capable of accommodating his fondness for mixing metaphysics, realism, pulp fiction, and Dadaist incongruities.
— Michael Greenberg

"Aira oversteps the bounds of realism, forcing the world to live up to his imagination."
— Benjamin Lytal

"Exhilarating. Cesar Aira is the Duchamp of Latin American literature. Aira is one of the most provocative and idiosyncratic novelists working in Spanish today and should not be missed."
— Natasha Wimmer

"Aira's cubist eye sees from every angle. the stories in "the Musical Brain" exhibit the continuing narration of Aira's improvisational mind. his characters - whether comic-strip ruffians, apes, subatomic particles or a version of his boyhood self - enter a shifting and tilting landscape of events that unhinge our temporal existence and render it phantasmagorical yet seemingly everyday in the unfolding. His matter-of-fact approach, accepting even the most outlandish episodes, suspends disbelief and encourages one's own sense of displacement, of being released from the commonplace. Hail Cesar!"
— Patti Smith

“Ema” is as inventive and aphoristic as Aira’s best works.
— Alena Graedon

"Aira delivers one surreal unraveling of reality after another that proceeds paradox by paradox into psychic realms."
— Michael Upchurch

"Argentine author Cesar Aira is an exquisite miniaturest who toys with avant-garde techniques. His work has drawn comparisons to Vladimir Nabokov and Italo Calvino for its gleeful literary gamesmanship and stories-within-stories."
— Ema The Captive

"Cesar Aira's writing has the freedom of improvisation, but his thought is informed by a coherent if highly personal matrix of concepts."
— Michael Eaude

This prolific Argentine writer has inspired a cult following.
— Scott Esposito

Ema, the Captive creates a world that boldly asks us to rebel against convention, while seeking alternative avenues of thought.
— John Gibbs

Ema, the Captive is a gentle meditation on the natural world in its grotesqueness and its beauty, humanity’s place within it, and the effect that human progress has had on both. With his usual incredible attention to detail and in measured, lucid prose, Aira somehow turns this tale into a page-turner, the kind of feat only he could accomplish.

— Justin Souther

I get so absorbed by an Aira novel that upon finishing I don't remember anything. It's like having a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.
— Patti Smith

"Once you start reading Aira, you don't want to stop."
— Roberto Bolano

Aira’s literature is but a parody of inventiveness, and at its core is an amazing degree of penetrating and unrelenting critical reflexivity.
— Nicolás Guagnini
Product Details
ISBN: 9780811219105
ISBN-10: 0811219100
Publisher: New Directions
Publication Date: December 6th, 2016
Pages: 128
Language: English