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The Private Lives of Trees

The Private Lives of Trees - Alejandro Zambra, Megan McDowell This is a charming novella that at first doesn't seem to have much to it, but it sneaks up on you. Julián is a young professor and writer (apparently the same narrator as Zambra's earlier Bonsai); "The Private Life of Trees" is a story he tells his stepdaughter Daniela one evening as they wait for her mother Verónica to return. But she doesn't return; Daniela goes to sleep but Julián stays awake, thinking about his life, about Verónica's life, and in the end imagining Daniela's life in the future and how she might in turn remember Julián from when she was a little girl. That's it, but in those seemingly inconsequential night thoughts we get a catalog of the forms of love, particularly those forms that are intertwined with stories. Julián becomes a silent Scheherazade, telling himself stories to forestall knowledge of whatever misfortune might be keeping Verónica from coming home.The accents on the characters' names are one of the few signs that this book comes from another language, and I think they're unnecessary; it could happen anywhere. Megan McDowell's translation reads naturally in English, with a tone just right for Julián's character. He doesn't want to imagine the worst; the best he imagines is so modest it might seem sad. But, for Daniela's sake, he refuses to be sad—and that's the strongest form his love can take.