Alejandro Zambra reads from his book of fiction, Multiple Choice, in the original Spanish alongside the book's translator, Megan McDowell, who reads her English translation. The collection was published in July by Penguin Books.
IV. Sentence Elimination
In exercises 55 through 66, mark the answer that corresponds to the sentences or paragraphs that can be eliminated because they either do not add information or are unrelated to the rest of the text.
(1) In Chile, no one says hi to each other in elevators. You get in and pretend you don’t see anyone, you pretend you’re blind. And if you say hello, people look at you strangely, sometimes they don’t even return the greeting. You share your fragility in silence, like a sacrifice.
(2) How hard would it be to say hello, you think, while the door opens on an in-between floor. There are already nine, ten people, and no one else can fit. Someone’s headphones are playing a song that you know and like.
(3) It would be easier to embrace the woman standing there in front of you. What you and she share is the effort to avoid touching each other.
(4) You remember getting punished once when you were little, maybe eight years old: you’d been caught in the girls’ bathroom swapping kisses with a little classmate. It wasn’t the first time you and she had kissed each other. It was a game, a kind of dare. A teacher saw you, scolded you, brought you to the principal’s office.
(5) Your punishment was to stand face-to-face, staring into each other’s eyes and holding both hands, in the middle of the playground for the entire recess, while the ot her children yelled and teased you.
(6) She cried from the shame. You were on the verge of tears, but you kept your eyes on her face, you felt a kind of sad fire burning. Her name, the girl’s, was Rocío.
(7) How long was that recess? Ten minutes, maybe fifteen. You never again spent fifteen minutes looking into another person’s eyes.
(8) It would be easier to just embrace the stranger there in front of you. You are both looking down; you are taller than she is. You focus on her black, still-wet hair.
(9) The tangled strands of that long, straight hair: you think about the hair that you used to untangle, carefully, on certain mornings. You learned the technique. You know how to untangle the hair of another person.
(10) Now almost everyone has gotten off the elevator, and only she and you are left. With each new space that opens up, you take the opportunity to move apart. You could stand even farther apart, each of you clinging to your corner, but that would be demonstrating something. It would be the same as embracing.
(11) She gets off one floor before you. And it’s strange and somehow horrible that when you see your body multiplied in the mirrors you feel the immense relief that you feel now.
(12) “In Chile, no one says hello to each other in elevators,” you say that night, at a dinner with friends from abroad. “They don’t in my country, either,” everyone answers, maybe out of politeness. “No, really, in Chile no one says anything. People don’t even look at each other in elevators,” you insist.
(13) “Everyone fakes their absence. Old friends, enemies, or lovers could be in the same elevator and never know it.”
(14) You add generalizations about Chilean identity, rudimentary sociology. As you speak, you feel you are betraying something. You feel the sharp point, the weight of your imposture.
(15) “In Chile, no one says hi to each other in elevators,” you say again, like a refrain, at a dinner where everyone competes to be the best observer and to inhabit the worst country.
B) 4, 5, 6, and 7
C) 8 and 9
D) 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11
E) 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15
From MULTIPLE CHOICE by Alejandro Zambra. Copyright © 2016 by Alejandro Zambra, used by permission of The Wylie Agency LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing.