This month Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra’s second novella The Private Lives of Trees will be released by Open Letter. Readers familiar with Chilean author Roberto Bolaño’s eccentric characters will be pleasantly surprised by the normality of Zambra’s middle-class family living in Santiago. Julián, the narrator of the novel, is a literature professor who dryly contemplates his true calling “to have dandruff.” He lives with his wife, Verónica, and step-daughter, Daniela, in a comfortable home when one night his wife does not return from her art class. The novella takes place in a span of a night in Julián’s thoughts, as he contemplates his past love for Verónica; and more interestingly, Julián also examines his parental feelings for Daniela as he imagines their future without his wife.
The Private Lives of Trees is, as the title promises, private. It’s a slow dance in the mind of a thoughtful narrator filled with the grievances and uncertainty of everyday life. The quiet eloquence of his writing is absorbing, and the book can be read in one sitting in the span of three hours. We can only hope Zambra, as well as more young Latin American authors, will continue to be translated with such grace into English.