Reviewed by Randy Rosenthal
Dr. Aira is not a doctor. He is a miracle healer. Incongruously, Dr. Aira is also a believer in reason. At fifty years old, he is a man who tries to “always act within the rules of honor and proper upbringing,” and “could not conceive of violence.” He does not charge for his services. On his frequent walks, memories of passed embarrassments cause him to pause. During these moments, Dr. Aira speaks words of devotion to trees. This is usually when his arch-enemy, Dr. Actyn, tries to take advantage of the healer.
The medical establishment is not happy with Dr. Aira’s “interventions,” or miracle cures. In order to find out exactly how he performs his miracles, they send actors posing as doctors to set him up. They have done all they can for their patient, the fake doctors explain, and now their last hope is for Dr. Aira to perform a miracle cure and either save the patient from certain death, or bring a dead patient back to life. Usually, Dr. Aira can see through Actyn’s trap, and does not allow his process of performing miracles to be observed. Yet now he wants to tell his secrets; his current project, now that he is temporarily free from financial concerns, is to publish the cases of his work.
Dr. Aira turns to writing, and this is where the protagonist and author meet. Dr. Aira has a habit of only writing in cafes in the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires; it is well known that César Aira has produced over eighty books by writing a painstaking page a day in the cafes of his neighborhood in Buenos Aires, which the author hardly leaves. There are other clues that this book is about more than miracle cures and the evil medical establishment. After Actyn’s stooges take Dr. Aira into the Argentinean Pampa, the doctor notes that “nothing could be more realistic or more normal than a straight line, but following it once could also move into the marvelous.” There can hardly be a better summary of César Aira’s writing style; he takes the reader on what seems like a linear and normal journey, yet three-fourths of the way something magnificent and fantastic occurs. A landscape painter is struck by lighting, or a woman is carried into the air by the wind. Descriptions of a tree can turn into intense philosophical introspection and back again within a couple paragraphs.
Though the book’s title—The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira— suggests the focus will be on miracle healings, the theme of writing takes up much of the slim book’s bulk. Writing “was the only way to quell the anxiety that could otherwise overwhelm him, anxiety due to the immeasurable and self-propagating nature of the things that filled the world and continued to emerge each and every step of the way.”
The final thirty pages consist of an in-depth explanation of the metaphysical process of how Dr. Aira performs his miracles—completely rational, but essentially incomprehensible. As he performs his miracle of bringing a dying patient back to health, Dr. Aira “looked like a Don Quixote attacking his invisible enemies, except his sword was the bundle of metaphysical foldout screens and his opponent was the Universe.”
Here at the end does the reader—if they are a good reader—get a glimpse of what Aira’s latest translated book is really about: the power of words. César Aira remembers that “In the beginning was the word,” and that according to our mythology, words are the origin of creation; César Aira is indeed Dr. Aira, and his miracles are the little books he creates.
Translated from the Spanish by Kathrine Silver
New Directions, October 2012