The Private Lives of Trees

Alejandro Zambra

Translated by Megan McDowell

French paperback with flaps, 88 pages
Published 7 February 2023

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Verónica 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 Verónica, 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 Private Lives of Trees, Alejandro Zambra’s second novel, now published in the UK for the first time in a revised translation by Megan McDowell, overflows with his signature wit and his gift for crafting short novels that manage to contain whole worlds.

The Arts Desk Books of the Year 2023 | Review31 Books of the Year 2023

The Private Lives of Trees is a small classic in Latin American letters – small in size but not in depth or reach. Books like this one remind us that the experience of reading can still be closely tied to our lives, and not a mere succession of minutes and phrases strung together by someone else’s mind.’
— Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive

‘In The Private Lives of Trees, I found proof of what I had suspected all along that writing could offer us, beyond writing itself…. Finally, I’d found an author who was writing in order to reach that place not made of words. And he took you there with him. I know of no greater talent. Not in literature or in life.’
— Margarita García Robayo, author of Fish Soup

‘Original and funny, Zambra has a knack for treating serious ideas lightly. This kind of meandering, light-touch writing must present difficulties for a translator, but McDowell has gracefully overcome them. Like a bonsai tree, The Private Lives of Trees is small but artful.’
Miranda France, Times Literary Supplement 

‘A world that remains distinctively and compellingly his own is that of Alejandro Zambra in The Private Life of Trees, translated by Megan McDowell. One of the most inventive writers in the Spanish-speaking world, the Chilean author has developed a unique style that combines a puckish wit with a clear-eyed … view of the fears and hopes of his struggling writers.’
— Michael Cronin, Irish Times

‘One of the greatest literary events of recent years.’
— Alfonso Cortínez, Las Últimas Noticias

‘Julián is an exceptionally well-drawn character, his subdued eccentricity rendered sympathetically but honestly…. Zambra has proven here that he can do complex emotion as well as he can do cynicism.’
The Rumpus

‘A fleeting story translated with care – worth savouring.’
Kirkus Reviews

‘Despite the novel totaling only 86 pages, Zambra manages to enclose an entire world inside.’
Ewa Połka, Buzz Magazine

‘This is an immensely tender work that is easily read, in fact optimally read, in one sitting. I haven’t read another book that meditates as roundly on huge, human questions in such a small body. Published for the first time in the UK this year, Zambra’s book was a much-needed jolt back into reading for the sake of it.’
Lia Rockey, The Arts Desk Books of the Year

Alejandro Zambra was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1975. He is the author of Chilean Poet, Multiple Choice, Not to Read, My Documents, Ways of Going Home, The Private Lives of Trees and Bonsai. In Chile, among other honours, he has won the National Book Council Award for best novel three times. In English, he has won the English PEN Award and the PEN/O. Henry Prize and was a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He has also won the Prince Claus Award (Holland) and received a Cullman Center Fellowship from the New York Public Library. His books have been translated into twenty languages, and his stories have been published in the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, the Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s and Harper’s, among other publications. He has taught creative writing and Hispanic literature for fifteen years and currently lives in Mexico City.

Megan McDowell is an award-winning Spanish-language translator. She has translated books by Alejandro Zambra, Samanta Schweblin, Mariana Enríquez and Lina Meruane, among others, and her short story translations have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Harper’s and The White Review. She lives in Santiago, Chile.