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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Famous Magician

César Aira

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To purchase The Famous Magician

Title: The Famous Magician
Author: César Aira
Genre: Novella
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 60 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Famous Magician - US
in: Actos de caridad. Los dos hombres. El ilustre mago. - US
The Famous Magician - UK
The Famous Magician - Canada
in: Actos de caridad. Los dos hombres. El ilustre mago. - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Spanish title: El ilustre mago
  • Translated by Chris Andrews

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Our Assessment:

B : the usual playful Aira fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
La Nación . 17/9/2017 Elvio E. Gandolfo
Publishers Weekly . 13/4/2022 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "El ilustre mago, por último, se carga de una potencia especial al cruzar la invención desbocada con el anclaje en lo real, y con filamentos autobiográficos de un César Aira que circula entre realidades propias levemente alteradas: la casa, la pareja, los cibers, muy en especial la feria del Parque Rivadavia y los circuitos de viaje (en este caso, la ciudad de El Cairo)." - Elvio E. Gandolfo, La Nación

  • "While Aira’s postmodern tropes are somewhat stale, the story’s driving question of choosing a meaningful course for one’s life is timeless." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       César Aira's fictions tend to the short; so also The Famous Magician -- making it a perfect fit for the Storybook ND-series of books it is now published in. It is also not the first Aira text to feature a magician. Here, the title character is Ovando, whom the narrator -- essentially, the writer Aira (as also so often in his work) -- considers rather dubious, a charlatan. Ovando seems, to the narrator, to be: "basically down and out, but had intellectual pretensions". He'd even written a book -- albeit: "a shoddy, self-published edition".
       Ovando seeks out the narrator, telling him he has a proposal for him, and while the narrator at first barely pays attention, Ovando's claims that: "he could bend the laws of physics to his will and compel them to do his bidding" does get his interest -- especially when the magician puts on a bit of a show that would seem to back up that claim. Ovando explains that he needs the narrator and his particular abilities: "in order to achieve total control of power". By himself, Ovando could only get so far, but with the writer's talents -- command of: "the Fairy Literature and her gifts" -- the potential could be infinite.
       The offer, of being a partner in this grand vision, comes at a cost however: "he was demanding an exclusive commitment" -- meaning: no more writing and, even worse, no more reading, the magician explaining:

     In general, I advise against reading: it's a waste of time and dangerous for the purity of your soul. In your case, once you begin your study of these mysteries, you'll have to completely forego that harmful activity.
       The temptation is great -- Ovando does seem to be offering an opening to a grand, incredible experience -- but the cost is high. The narrator has always considered Literature (with a capital 'L') an integral part of his life and can hardly imagine abandoning it -- but he begins to think about it.
       The Famous Magician then follows him as he considers Ovando's proposal, leading him also then far afield, in mind and beyond. Eventually, too, he also comes to realize what Ovando wants from him - what the magician's true ambitions are.
       As so often with Aira, it's a ride that veers between the realistic and the surreal, with a precision of description and analysis in the narrator's deliberation that neatly makes even the far-fetched seem possibly almost normal. The narrator's struggle, of what kind of future to embrace, of where to go with his life, and his contemplating a life without the Literature that has so long been an integral part of him is, of course, particularly appealing to those who engage with Literature with similar enthusiasm, as writers and especially as readers.
       It's a fun little work, easily enjoyed at a single go -- and quite a powerful gulp at that.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 September 2022

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The Famous Magician: Reviews: César Aira: Other books by César Aira under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author César Aira was born in 1949.

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© 2022-2024 the complete review

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