Review: Multiple Choice

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Book Title: Multiple Choice
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Series: None
Genres: Fiction, Poetry, Non-Fiction, Cultural

Date Read: 06/18/16
Pub Date: 07/19/16


The works of Alejandro Zambra, “the most talked-about writer to come out of Chile since Bolaño” (New York Times Book Review), are distinguished by their striking originality, their brevity, their strangeness, and their flouting of narrative convention. Now, at the height of his powers, Zambra returns with a book that is the natural extension of these qualities: Multiple Choice.

Written in the form of a standardized test, Multiple Choice invites the reader to complete virtuoso language exercises and engage with short narrative passages via multiple-choice questions that are thought-provoking, usually unanswerable, and often absurd. It offers a new kind of reading experience, one where the reader participates directly in the creation of meaning. Full of humor, melancholy, and anger, Multiple Choice is about love and family; privacy and the limits of closeness; how a society is affected by the legacies of the past; and the conviction that, rather than learning to think, we are trained to obey and repeat. Serious in its literary ambition but playful in its execution, Multiple Choice confirms Alejandro Zambra as one of the most important writers working in any language.

It’s books like this that make me wonder if I’m too carefree with my 5 STAR reviews. This itty bitty book packed a wollop; my copy came in at 101 pages and, unlike some non-fiction (namely poetry) that usually takes me longer to get through, I finished in about an hour. I reread most of it the following day because I wanted to soak in some of the sections a bit longer before reviewing.

How do I even review a book like this? It was definitely genre bending; I honestly couldn’t pinpoint exactly which sections were non-fiction and which were made up officially, but I felt I had a general idea. The format was written in the style of the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test which made it very interactive. I thoroughly enjoyed following all the directions and trying different answers and orders to come up with different paragraphs. You have some really silly sections that seem insane; the directions state to pick the answer below of which number(s) do not belong with the rest:

(1) There are hamburgers in the refrigerator.

(2) There’s some lettuce and mustard, too.
(3) I went to the beach with the kids.
(4) It’s normal. They’re my kids too.
(5) I’m afraid of you.
(6) And they’re afraid of you too.
(7) And that, too, is normal.

A) None
B) 1 and 2
C) 2
D) 4
E) 7

Then you had sections that were more deep (I didn’t want to pick the best sections because I want YOU to read this book for yourself!); for the following you were instructed to place the options in what you felt the best sentence arrangement was:

31. Relatives

1. You group them into two lists: the ones you love and the ones you don’t.
2. You group them into two lists: the ones who shouldn’t be alive and the ones who shouldn’t be dead.
3. You group them according to the degree of trust they inspired in you as a child.
4. For a moment you think you discover something important, something that has been hanging over you for years.
5. You group them into two lists: the living and the dead.

A) 1-3-4-5-2
B) 5-2-1-3-4
C) 1-3-5-2-4
D) 3-4-5-2-1
E) 1-2-3-4-5

There were also lots of sections involving memories and stories about life in Chile during Pinochet’s regime, and I think these sections affected me the most. It made me grateful to live in the country that I do and to have the freedoms I have. Even if you aren’t the type to typically read Non-Fiction or Poetry, I would highly recommend this little loaf of history. Many thanks to Penguin for my ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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