The private lives of trees

by Alejandro Zambra

Paper Book, 2010




Rochester, NY : Open Letter, 2010.


The second novel by the internationally celebrated writer Alejandro Zambra, a "short and strikingly original" (The New Yorker) book about the stories we spin for ourselves and our loved ones--now reissued by Penguin Veronica is late, and Julián is increasingly convinced she won't ever come home. To pass the time, he improvises a story about trees to coax his stepdaughter, Daniela, to sleep. He has made a life as a literature professor, developing a novel about a man tending to a bonsai tree on the weekends. He is a narrator, an architect, a chronicler of other people's stories. But as the night stretches on before him, and the hours pass with no sign of Veronica, Julián finds himself caught up in the slipstream of the story of his life--of their lives together. What combination of desire and coincidence led them here, to this very night? What will the future--and possibly motherless--Daniela think of him and his stories? Why tell stories at all?    The second novel by acclaimed Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra, The Private Lives of Trees overflows with his signature wit and his gift for crafting short novels that manage to contain whole worlds. … (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member hemlokgang
How can an author pack so much into a novella? That is the question I am left with after reading "The Private Lives of Trees". The author takes us through one long night suffered by Julian, a writer and stepfather, who is waiting for his wife to come home. I won't tell if she does or not, and
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frankly, it is almost irrelevant. The reader is allowed access to the stream of thoughts, feelings, imaginings, hopes, history, and fears of one man for one night. His ponderings are the stuff of being human, vulnerable, angry, sad, and hopeful. Oh yes......the private lives of trees is what Julian calls the stories he tells his beloved stepdaughter at bedtime every night until she sleeps.....
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LibraryThing member KrisR
This is a gem of a short novel. It opens as a professor and writer, Julián, is telling his stepdaughter Daniela a bedtime story while waiting for his wife Verónica to return from an art class. The bedtime story is a sweet, humorous and quirky story about two trees who are friends. As you read on,
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you learn that Verónica is later than usual, and as time passes, Julián grows progressively more anxious.

In 98 pages, Zambra uses this simple premise to move into a story which is much more than this framework. I an reluctant to say more, because part of the pleasure of this beautiful short novel comes from your being led, with great care, along Julián's reflections, memories and projections into the future.

Throughout the novel, I could tell that Zambra weighed every sentence, every phrase, every word with great care. The result is a simple eloquence that beautifully sustains that atmosphere of that opening bedtime story, even as Zambra also explores the anxious thoughts, justifications, and fears we have all experienced while waiting for a loved one who is late returning.

This is a novel that is imbued with a great sense of affection and love. As I mentioned to Mike Puma earlier today, it is a gentle novel. Reading it feels like being wrapped in a blanket and lulled to sleep by someone whom you trust, someone who is watching over you with love. As Mike said, we don't have enough cause these days to use the word "gentle" -- for this reason, I recommend this novel to you.
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
This was a conceptually interesting and enjoyable novella about a literature professor (Julián) who is writing a novel about his past life in an unhappy marriage, how he met and won the love of his current wife (Verónica), and the future life of his eight year old step-daughter (Daniela).
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Verónica has not yet returned home from her art class, and Julián anxiously awaits her return, while putting Daniela to bed with a story, "The Private Lives of Trees", and writing his book, which will end when Verónica returns home. This novella consists of ordinary stories about every day lives, and in Zambra's delicate hand these characters are allowed to slowly develop and mature.
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LibraryThing member dtn620
This book was alright, it's wasn't particularly interesting or moving thought I felt like it should have been. I would definitely give Zambra another shot to WOW me. I think I am going to seek out more of these Open Letter Books.

And yes Kerry, there is something about bridges in this book.
LibraryThing member BALE
A beautiful andintrospective novella.
LibraryThing member jonfaith
50 Thoughts on The Private Lives of Trees.
This will correspond or not with the experience of reading this stirring novel on a cool, sunny day in late Summer.
1)The novel likely takes place in our Chile.
2) I have never been to Chile. Or South America.
3)Miami is the farthest south I have ever
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ventured. The farthest East is Beograd, Serbia. North: Uppsala, Sweden. West : San Francisco.
4)While in Miami my wife and i saw her friend from Chile.
5) He's a travel minister for a coast city.
6) While Chile is famous for earthquakes, there are none depicted in this novel.
7) I experienced an earthquake a few years ago.
8) It was here in Indiana.
9) the novel is rather universal.
10) it weaves the possibilities in life with the layers of narrative.
11)Neither have much in terms of resolution.
12) Biological death is a certainty.
13)There are a number of references to authors in the book.
14) Aside from Jeanette Winterson and Borges, Paul Auster occupies a prominent space.
15) Paul Auster is very popular in Europe.
16) I've found his books on many people shelves across that continent.
17) I don't really like Paul Auster.
18) There was glib parody of his fiction in The New Yorker.
19) Baking and gardening feature in The Private Lives of Trees.
20) The baking is unsuccessful
21) I hope that isn't a spoiler.
22) Sometimes spoilers can't be helped
23)when my friends and I were reading platform, someone leaked the Bali type massacre at the end.
24) That was sad.
25)I mean the actual event (Bali), the fictional episode and the idea that I knew how the novel would end.
26) I have never been to Bali.
27) I may have covered that in thought #3.
28)The philosophy of the daughter in the book is interesting.
29) It reminds me of that pop song Closing Time.
30) One could also find some Heraclitus within such rumination.
31)There is a scene of vandalism in the novel.
32)Something similar has happened in my family.
33) I was going to type that I didn't understand.
34)That isn't true; I do understand.
35)That makes me sad.
36)Cristiano Ronaldo says that he is sad.
37)He's rich, handsome and one of the 3 best footballers in the world.
38)Football (soccer) does feature in the novel.
39)I regard Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the 3 best players on the planet.
40)Two of the main characters in the novel drink coffee.
41)Though not at the same time.
42)I drink coffee.
43)Essentially espresso, usually 5-8 shots a day.
44)I like to order espresso abroad: its easy for my stumbling tongue.
45)When I travel here I order in bulk: 6-8 shots at a time.
46)Procrastination and hobbies both figure centrally to the narrative here.
47) As does editing, pruning away stories.
48)This also features in the gardening depicted above.
49)I hadn't thought of Candide until just now: hmm
50)I originally titled this 100 Thoughts but became distracted by Voltaire.
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Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2012)


Original language

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