…and get kicked off a public school’s bench.
Zambra had thrown out the first fifty pages of a more traditional novel he was trying to write about 1993. The process had been making him feel like a “f**king author,” like he was writing a book he should be writing. I knew what he meant. Anything that felt like a “should” was death to the mysterious thing that makes writing good. The answer lay in finding a form that would allow the story to be told spontaneously. For Zambra, the form came from the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test, a standardized test he’d taken in 1993. At the time, the CAAT determined the futures of Chilean high school students, and caused a great deal of stress to teenagers. Zambra had structured his book like the verbal sections of the test, with headings like “Sentence Order” and “Reading Comprehension.”
“At first,” he said, “writing the questions was pure parody and joy, like imitating voices of people, but later I understood it also as making fun of myself and trying to find out how those structures stayed inside me.”
Zambra added that one could read Multiple Choice without prior knowledge of literary genres, and that he hoped the book would reach people who hadn’t had a literary education.
Writers who grow up under dictatorship have a true interest in democratizing literature, I noted. Writers who grow up under democracy have a true interest in remaining snotheads.
Read the full conversation here, (beware — there’s a small multiple-choice quiz at the end…) and place your hold on Multiple Choice, out last month, via our catalog. Check out our other titles by Zambra while you’re at it!