"THE BORGES OF the Pampas," is the boast that adorns the cover of César Aira's new novel. Well, don't race to the bookstore: Aira has about as much in common with Borges as Madonna has with Eva Perón. Sure, there's the requisite metaphysical pondering, the interlacing of dreams with reality, the pseudo-historical meandering, but that's as close as Aira comes to duplicating the intoxicating effect of a Borges story.
The plot reads like a Hollywood action/adventure flick starring Jeremy Irons. An intrepid English naturalist named Clarke travels to the Argentinean Pampas in search of the exceptionally rare Legibrerian hare. Accompanied by a young watercolor artist (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a taciturn gaucho (Antonio Banderas), Clarke stumbles into the territory of the verbally elusive Mapuche Indians. The Mapuches claim to have sighted the hare, but in terms so slippery that Clarke's team soon begins to suspect something fishy is afoot. Soon thereafter, the Mapuche chief, Cafulcurá (Liam Neeson), disappears from a hare hunt organized in Clarke's honor, and the Indians declare that he's been kidnapped by the Mapuches' bitter enemies--the Vorogas. Mallén the shaman (John Malkovich) persuades Clarke and his posse to set out on a journey to the Voroga territories to free the Mapuche chief.
From roughly this point on, The Hare ceases to be a bad, badly translated novel choking with gratuitously tangled sentences ("The Mapuches were constantly creating continuities, and so adept were they at this that they no longer even needed to employ visible or virtual connections, but simply used the continuity itself to perform that function") and becomes fodder for a Monty Python skit. After convincing us that the Legibrerian hare is really a rare diamond, Aira places this subplot on the back burner and proceeds to spin a convoluted mess: Indians living in the guts of the earth; a terrifying widow/warrior who may, or may not, have the diamond; a chick trapped alive in a glacier (Winona Ryder? Gwyneth Paltrow?); and a creepy reunion on a mountain top in which everyone discovers they are related to everyone else. Yet the only real ambiguity in The Hare pertains to who should get most of the blame--the Borges of the Pampas or his incompetent translator.