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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Reading Comprehension Text No. 1" by Alejandro Zambra

Issue: July 6 & 13, 2015

Story: "Reading Comprehension Text No. 1" by Alejandro Zambra

Rating: $/Meh

Review: I really, really did not want to review this story. I'm not 100% sure why. I liked Zambra's story from the May 26, 2014 issue "Camillo" pretty well. Zambra writes very accessibly (though, it is translated) and with a drily humorous style, about being a teenager in Chile. He does it with the sort of subversive, anti-authoritarian bent that a lot of Latin American writers -- and Latin Americans in general -- have had to adopt as a way to keep their souls intact in the face of a recent history of oppression and dictatorships.

Anyway, Zambra's writing is fun, and I suppose this "gimmick piece," formed in the style of a reading comprehension text, complete with multiple choice questions at the end, was kind of fun to read. In fact, in my opinion, the questions are where you get the real "point" of the story, if there is one:

6. From this text, one understands that:

(A) The students copied on tests because they lived under a dictatorship, and that justified everything.

Here we come to what I feel is a major theme in Zambra's writing: where do people, especially the young, draw moral lines when the society the governs them, that serves as their example, is corrupt. The reading quiz at the end definitely helps guide the reader toward an interpretation of the mostly light-hearted story, so in that sense it is appreciated and a worthwhile device. Maybe Zambra is on to something here?

Judged by my normal standards a.) did this story stay with me, b.) did I think about it after I read it, c.) have any of its insights caused me to think harder about my life...I give it a mixed rating.

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