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César Aira

  • Original Title: LOS FANTASMAS
  • Publication date: January 1990
  • Publisher: Grupo Editor Latinoamericano
  • Country: AR
  • 104 print pages
  • Fantastic/Urban Fantasy


  • Epoch: Historical
  • Time Period: 20th century
  • Location setting: Argentina
  • Themes: FAMILY, PEOPLE facing life, Coming of age, Initiation journey, Death, SOCIETY DYSFUNCTIONS, Inequality, SOCIAL CHRONICLES, Social relations, Integration, CHARACTERS, Atypical Character


GHOSTS is about a construction worker's family squatting on a building site. They all see large and handsome ghosts around their quarters, but the teenage daughter is the most curious. Her questions about them become more and more heartfelt until the story reaches a critical, chilling moment when the mother realizes that her daughter's life hangs in the balance.


The English translation (New Directions, 2009) was nominated for the 2010 Best Translated Book Award shortlist.

GHOSTS is unique (and an example of what makes Aira stand out as a writer) in that the ghosts themselves are never explained in the reality of the world of the novel, nor are they set up in any sort of obvious fable-like or metaphorical sense. GHOSTS is completely realist, not fanciful or fantastic, and as he does with fantastic elements in his other fictions, Aira here inserts the ghosts as a natural component of the family’s daily life without trying to eke out anything shocking or waste time (or insult the readers’ intelligence) attempting to explain their presence. This seems the right way to do this sort of story, particularly since (in another twist) these ghosts hold no sense of menace, and in the end we believe in and accept the ghosts because the characters believe in and accept them." Reader's review

César Aira is an Argentine writer and translator, considered by many as one of the leading exponents of Argentine contemporary literature. He has published over fifty books of stories, novels and essays.


"On a building site of a new, luxury apartment building, visitors looked up at the strange, irregular form of the water tank that crowned the edifice, and the big parabolic dish that would supply television images to all the floors. On the edge of the dish, a sharp metallic edge on which no bird would have dared to perch, three completely naked men were sitting, with their faces turned up to the midday sun; no one saw them, of course."

This is a compelling novel about a migrant Chilean family living in an apartment house under construction in Buenos Aires. New Year's Eve finds the hard-drinking Chilean night watchman, Raúl Vinas, hosting a party with his wife, Elisa, their four small children and Elisa's pensive 15-year-old daughter, Patri. Moreover, ghosts reside in the house: naked, dust-covered floating men, mostly unseen except by Elisa and Patri. The novel engineers a clever layering of metaphorical details about the building, but gradually focuses on Elisa's preparations for the party and her conversations with her daughter about finding a real man to marry. Prodded perhaps by her isolation within the family, Patri accepts the ghosts' invitation to a midnight feast, at her life's peril.

Review. MS in English available

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  • Author’s biography

    César Aira (born on February 23, 1949 in Coronel Pringles, Buenos Aires Province) is an Argentine writer and translator, considered by many as one of the leading exponents of Argentine contemporary literature, in spite of his limited public recognition.
    He has published over fifty books of stories, novels and essays.