Skip to main content

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…