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The Private Lives of Trees [Paperback]

Alejandro Zambra , Megan McDowell

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Book Description

July 15 2010

Each night, Julián has been improvising a story about trees for his stepdaughter, but tonight something is different. As Julián becomes increasingly concerned that his wife won't return, he imagines what Daniela—at twenty, at thirty years old, without a mother—will think of his novel.


Frequently Bought Together

The Private Lives of Trees + Bonsai: A Novel
Price For Both: CDN$ 23.06

  • Bonsai: A Novel CDN$ 11.55

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 98 pages
  • Publisher: Open Letter (July 15 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934824240
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934824245
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 12.8 x 0.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #360,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Alejandro Zambra was named as one of Granta's "Best Young Spanish-language Novelists." He is the author of three novels, including Bonsai, which was made into a film, and Ways of Going Home.

Megan McDowell received her Master's Degree in Literary Translation from the University of Texas at Dallas. In addition to two books by Alejandro Zambra, she has translated Under This Terrible Sun by Carlos Busqued and La Vida Doble by Arturo Fontaine.


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Life is a huge album for creating an instantaneous past, with loud and definite colors." Aug. 1 2010
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Described as "the greatest writer of Chile's younger generation," Alejandro Zambra is a unique writer, one who, like his alterego Julian, also an author, ties himself to the most mundane aspects of everyday life, which he then describes succinctly and, at times, lovingly. There are no spectacular scenes, no dramatic displays of emotion, and no real plot here, just the story of Julian, a university professor who, on Sundays, works on his novel, a long project which was once three hundred pages but which he has whittled down to a mere forty-seven pages. His novel is about a young man tending a bonsai tree, similar to one given to Julian by his friends, and which he has neglected to the point that it may die.

Julian has been happily married for three years to Veronica, who brought her five-year-old daughter Daniela into the marriage, and it is for Daniela that he tells a never-ending story of the private life of trees. On this evening, however, Veronica has gone to her art class and has not come home. Julian is nervous and wonders if she has left him. He passes the time that night writing about her, their life together, and their past lives, and he says he will stop writing when she returns home, or when he is convinced that she will not return.

As he writes, the reader comes to know something about all the characters and about the writing process. Time passes as in a dream, with present and past overlapping, memories surfacing and vanishing, and Julian's imagination creating new scenarios which get interrupted and then change directions. He envisions Daniela someday reading the thoughts he has recorded while awaiting Veronica's return--maybe when she is thirty.

When Julian's writing ends, author Zambra continues. Using the point of view of Daniela, he shows her as an older woman as she considers reading Julian's novel, which she thinks may be, like all fiction, just "novelists' absurd farces." Zambra touches on the process of writing fiction, what it means, and whether it is important, as he moves into the future, giving an ending to Julian's thoughts during that crucial night. Filled with warmth and a sly sense of humor about writing, life in Chile, and his main character Julian, Zambra creates a wonderful irony--it is almost impossible to remember that the main character is Julian and not Alejandro Zambra. Those who believe that "more is better" may be surprised at how much Zambra can reveal in the belief that "less is more." Mary Whipple
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After reading this book I just held it in my hands for a while May 28 2014
By Kirk D. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This became one of those rare books that I purchased after reading the library copy. I kept coming across passages that stopped me - that I read again multiple times - and the structure of the novella is a marvel. It has a sadness that fills me with contentment. And by the end I felt the impact of the story. This book is dear to me.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine piece of international fiction Aug. 9 2010
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The impression that one leaves behind on their children is something that picks at parent's minds for ages. "The Private Lives of Trees" is a novel from Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra, masterfully translated by Megan McDowell. Julian is a father who tells a story to his daughter every night, awaiting the return of his wife. Fearing that his wife is lost, he ponders what his daughter will think of his writing and him as she grows into an adult. Poignant and thought provoking "The Private Lives of Trees" is a fine piece of international fiction.
9 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Master of the bonsai July 11 2011
By Simon Barrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The blurb says this 'demands' to be read in a single sitting. Well, it's certainly wafer-thin, in both plot and character departments. Plot qua plot doesn't really bother me (it's not why I read; like life, it just comes) but the people! They have the washed-out feel of a novelised movie script (think Auster, who's even cited) or a comic without pictures (think Murakami). But those guys sell in shedloads; what's not to like? I guess I simply prefer an author of a *book* rather than of an oeuvre. This smacks of the fiction factory, a calculated writing exercise rather than a work of the imagination - a short story stretched, tweaked and abandoned, and staidly self-referential (the protagonist's writing a novel, natch); fortunately those tedious trees don't get much of a look-in. The translation's inoffensive (something my reviews rarely attain, or even aspire to) but NO WAY can a *man* be a confidante (though to be sure it's pronounced like that!) and this sentence on p56 gave me pause: 'They got out two bottles of wine and ended up the night seizing hold of lofty, drawn-out phrases that indefinitely lengthened the present.' (Clue: the wine wasn't the present, so the wine didn't make it go further.)
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Grow Up Julian! Jan. 9 2012
By las cosas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Until recently books were divided into childrens and adults. Then the helpful category YA was added, covering youths maybe 12-18. I would like to suggest another category: EA, emerging adults. Those aged maybe 18-25, and this novel would be an example of an EA novel. The purpose of these categorizations is to clue in the reader about the prospective and world view of the book. It is not that the books are necessarily worse than adult novels, they simply are written for a sub-set of the adult market.

This book is told from the prospective of a very nice young man completely lacking in worldly experience (except for a nasty "get lost" message from his girl friend written in red paint on their apartment wall). Because of this utterly constrained world, his reactions to events are those of a very young person. Shallow, shall we say. His failure to see the depth and complexity of what is happening, his inability to act (versus being the recipient of others actions) is extremely annoying to read. And when I try to analyze what I find this book such an utter failure (a two-star in Amazon speak) I come to my EA conclusion. I'm decades older than the novelist and my life experiences are thus considerably broader. When something occurs to or around me, I have a large basis of experience upon which to analyze what has occurred, and while I do not necessarily make better decisions, I do have a foundation of experience upon which to act. Our narrator seems to just think things will be okay. Or things will be whatever they are going to be. Lack of experience is the only excuse I can find for such a lack of vision and a correspondingly uninteresting book.

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