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Optic Nerve

By Maria Gainza & Thomas Bunstead
Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza & Thomas Bunstead digital book - Fable

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Publisher Description

"In this delightful autofiction―the first book by Gainza, an Argentine art critic, to appear in English―a woman delivers pithy assessments of world–class painters along with glimpses of her life, braiding the two into an illuminating whole." ―The New York Times Book Review, Notable Book of the Year and Editors' Choice

The narrator of Optic Nerve is an Argentinian woman whose obsession is art. The story of her life is the story of the paintings, and painters, who matter to her. Her intimate, digressive voice guides us through a gallery of moments that have touched her.

In these pages, El Greco visits the Sistine Chapel and is appalled by Michelangelo’s bodies. The mystery of Rothko’s refusal to finish murals for the Seagram Building in New York is blended with the story of a hospital in which a prostitute walks the halls while the narrator’s husband receives chemotherapy. Alfred de Dreux visits Géricault’s workshop; Gustave Courbet’s devilish seascapes incite viewers “to have sex, or to eat an apple”; Picasso organizes a cruel banquet in Rousseau’s honor . . . All of these fascinating episodes in art history interact with the narrator’s life in Buenos Aires―her family and work; her loves and losses; her infatuations and disappointments. The effect is of a character refracted by environment, composed by the canvases she studies.

Seductive and capricious, Optic Nerve marks the English–language debut of a major Argentinian writer. It is a book that captures, like no other, the mysterious connections between a work of art and the person who perceives it.

17 Reviews

“I liked some of the stories about the pieces of art, but over all I am still not sure I know the plot of this book. I can’t tell you anything significant about anyone in this book or what this book was about. I finished it and maybe didn’t need to, but did only for the stories about the pieces of art.”
“Reading this book was kind of like chewing on a cotton ball. The sentences themselves are gorgeous, but they don’t really do anything for the overall progression of the stories, besides perhaps slowing them down. I like the idea of this book, I adore short story collections, but this one fell very flat for me. 2.75 stars.”
“A long-overdue review of Maria Gainza's wonderful "El nervio óptico" (Optic Nerve in the English translation). This is one of those books that works either as a novella or a short story collection and remains highly accomplished either way! The unnamed narrator works in the art world, so each chapter/story references a different artist, and usually a particular painting by that artist. I love art history and paintings, and seeing how the narrator's story linked to each artist's work was an absolute delight. The link is never what you expect it to be, and usually profoundly moving. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Gainza paints a vivid portrait of Buenos Aires as well as the narrator's family and all the characters that form it. I haven't been to Argentina in years, yet I immediately felt transported back to its streets. It felt like an intensely real portrayal of Latin American families in the late 20th and early 21st century – that might be the autofiction side of this book coming in! (Also, a fun fact that drives my soft spot for Argentinian settings: on both sides of my family, I have relatives who have lived in Argentina at different times in their lives). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ If you can read this in Spanish, do, and enjoy the ways in which Argentinian Spanish is like no other dialect of Spanish as well as Gainza's clever, lyrical voice. If you can't, Thomas Bunstead's translation is excellent – I actually first came across this book by reading an excerpt of that translation, so I'm happy to vouch for it!”

About Maria Gainza

María Gainza was born in Buenos Aires, where she still resides. She has worked as a correspondent for The New York Times in Argentina, as well as for ARTnews. She has also been a contributor to Artforum, The Buenos Aires Review, and Radar, the cultural supplement from Argentine newspaper Página/12. She is coeditor of the collection Los Sentidos (The Senses) on Argentinean art, and in 2011 she published Textos elegidos (Selected Texts), a collection of her notes and essays on contemporary art. Optic Nerve is her first work of fiction and her first book to be translated into English.

Thomas Bunstead is a writer and translator based in East Sussex, England. He has translated some of the leading Spanish–language writers working today, including Eduardo Halfon, Yuri Herrera, Agustín Fernández Mallo, and Enrique Vila–Matas, and his own writing has appeared in publications such as Kill Author, The White Review, and The Times Literary Supplement. He is an editor at the translation journal In Other Words.

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