An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

Written by Cesar Aira (trans. Chris Andrews)
Review by Claire Morris

This entertaining novella reads like a short story, in that it focuses on one incident and how that incident affects the story’s protagonist. John Moritz Rugendas was a German landscape painter who travelled to South America in the early 1800s after hearing of the outstanding scenery to be found there. While crossing the continent, en route to Buenos Aires, he became caught in violent weather, and suffered an accident that was to change the way he viewed life, himself, the people around him, and perhaps most vitally, his art. The story goes on to recount how Rugendas and his faithful companion, Krause, cope with the new reality this incident has engendered.

Although it contains no chapters or section breaks, and although literary in nature, An Episode proves to be an easy and diverting read. Through deft description, the author and his translator convey the beauty of the land the characters are travelling across, and provide insight into what it must have been like to travel across what the Footprints guide calls “the most exciting continent on earth.” It also offers a glimpse into lives on a South American ranch during that period, reminding readers that North America wasn’t the only continent where pioneers were sparring with natives. If you’re curious about South America, or enjoy vignettes or richly painted canvases, this one is for you.