Final Exam

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New Directions Publishing, 2000 - Fiction - 237 pages
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Long undiscovered, Final Exam, Julio Cortazar's first novel (published 1986 in Spanish) is a major work by this important Argentinian author, now available in English translation for the first time. In its characters, themes, and preoccupations it prefigures Cortazar's later fictions, including Blow-Up and his masterpiece Hopscotch. Written in 1950 (just before the fall of Peron's government), Final Exam is Cortazar's allegorical, bitter, and melancholy farewell to an Argentina from which he was about to be permanently self-exiled. (Cortazar moved to Paris the following year.)

The setting of Final Exam is a surreal Buenos Aires, dark and eerie, where a strange fog has enveloped the city to everyone's bewilderment. Juan and Clara, two students at a college called "The House" (the Great Books are read aloud there by so-called Readers), meet up with their friends Andres and Stella, as well as a journalist friend they call "the chronicler". Juan and Clara are getting ready to take their final exam, but instead of preparing, they wander the city with their friends, encounter strange happenings in the square, attend concerts, and discuss their lives in cafes.

Final Exam is a fascinating literary experiment: with stream-of-consciousness narrative techniques, radical typographical innovations, and also shifts in rhythm and direction of its characters' thoughts and speech.

Darkly funny -- and riddled with unresolved ambiguities -- Final Exam is translated ably here by Alfred MacAdam. It is one of Cortazar's best works -- long over-due in English.


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About the author (2000)

Julio Cortazar is an Argentine poet, short story writer, and translator, whose pseudonym is Julio Denis. He was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1914. In 1918, he moved with his parents to their native Argentina. He taught high school and later French literature at the University of Cuyo, resigning after participating in demonstrations against Argentine President Juan Peron. He worked for a Buenos Aires publishing company and also earned a degree as a translator. Cortazar is part of the "boom" of excellence in Latin American letters in the 1950s and 1960s. He combines fantastic plots with commonplace events and characters, and looks for new ways for literature to represent life. His first novel, The Winners, tells the story of passengers on a luxury liner who are restricted to a certain area of the ship and forbidden to communicate with the crew. He explores the ways passengers react. Hopscotch has a complex narrative structure with 165 chapters that can be read in at least two logical sequences to create variations. A Change of Light and Other Stories is a short story collection dealing with themes ranging from political oppression to fantasy. We Love Glenda So Much is about a fan club murder of their favorite actress whose films do not meet their standards. A Certain Lucas is comprised of three sections of short observations, discussing the nature of reality, the exploration of literary form, and search for new ways to view the world.

Alfred J. Mac Adam is professor of Spanish at Barnard College.

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