March 28, 2012

Discounted Weekend Read: Alejandro Zambra’s Award-Winning Novel


In 2008 Melville House published for the first time in English a debut novel called Bonsai by Chilean author Alejandro Zambra. The book won Chile’s Literary Critics Award for Best Novel and now has been turned into a film directed by Cristian Jimenez.

Before you see the movie, though, you need to read the book. We’re making that much easier for you this weekend, as part of our new discounted weekend read series, we’ve lowered the price of the book in all formats: get the paperback for $8.99 and/or any digital format for $5.99. 

The book, which chronicles one man’s literary and romantic pursuits is told in spare, elliptical prose, and regularly draws in on itself while at the same time commenting on literature’s ability to influence enthusiastic, impressionable readers.

Alejandro Zambra is considered a talented and emerging author, whose playful prose and honesty speaks to a generation of readers with tastes that prefer experimentation and emotional candidness alongside hints of irony that puncture big-picture issues such as love, morality, and purpose.

The film, starring Diego Noguera as Julio and Nathalia Galgani as his girlfriend Emilia, premiered at Cannes in 2011 and received rave reviews.

In the Hollywood Reporter, Deborah Young wrote:

A youthful, melancholy film that draws on literature and writing for its inspiration, the accomplished, faux-collegiate Bonsai has a lot of the homegrown whimsy that animated Chilean writer-director Cristian Jimenez’s first film, Optical Illusions. Its romantic-sad references and mind-set will reflect the concerns of the more serious high school and college crowd, who could create an audience beyond film festivals for an enterprising distributor.

In preparation for the film’s U.S. release, Art Forum wrote in this month’s issue:

Jiménez’s film, which startles by beginning with the end, closes just as powerfully, with a legendary introduction: the opening lines of Swann’s Way. When Julio reads (in voice-over), “But my thoughts had run into a channel of their own, until I myself seemed actually to have become the subject of my book,” the words are not only those he had shared with Emilia in bed eight years earlier but also a touching assessment of his own adult, artistic accomplishment.

IndieWire talked with the film’s director, Cristian Jimenez about gaining inspiration from the book:

It’s based on a novel, so the first inspiration was reading it. I felt there was not just a great book, but also one I could relate to in a special way because it talks about my generation. In fact, Alejandro Zambra was born the same year I was.

To me “Bonsái” does not just tell Julio’s story, but refers to a moment right after the end of the dictatorship when the collective horizon that had had so much weight over the years was suddenly not there anymore. Maybe it was a heavy thing, but as much it was oppressive, it provided with certainties. This is about youngsters who have to deal with this sudden lack of certainties which makes them more lonely than they could have ever imagined. Literature doesn’t save them but gives them some kind of shelter.

On the other hand, when I was 20 I also wanted to be a writer, so in adapting I was not just working on the source but also on my own experience and the one of people who were close to me at the time. Bbeyond all this, what also seduced me in the novel was that it explores the notion of the structure, the style and even the design of the book as an object. I like to think of filmmaking in a similar way: not just a screenplay turned images, but a thing, an object.

If Bonsai teaches us one thing, it’s not to lie about reading. So order today, read the book, and then go see the movie with a clear conscious.

It opens in New York on May 11th at the IFC.


Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.