Bellevue Literary. Sept. 2022. 160p. tr. from Spanish by Lisa Dillman & Daniel Hahn. ISBN 9781954276079. pap. $17.99. F
In 1967, during the Guatemalan Civil War, rebels disguised as policemen and led by the eponymous Canción kidnap and hold for ransom the novelist’s grandfather and namesake Eduardo Halfon, who is eventually released unharmed. This abduction forms the nucleus of this new work from Halfon, a Guatemalan National Prize winner, as he switches back and forth in time by telling stories within stories. The remaining shorter components are more episodic. “The Bedouin” focuses on family member Salomon, who reads coffee grounds in the grandfather’s mansion. “Kimono on the Skin” introduces Aiko, whose grandfather was so badly burned by the Hiroshima nuclear blast that fabric from his kimono melted into his skin. Bookending them is the Lebanese writers’ conference in Japan where the author is lecturing. This loose construction makes readers question whether the book is a disjointed novel or a series of thematically related short stories.
VERDICT As they did for earlier Halfon books, translators Dillman and Hahn effectively render his fourth work to appear in English. Although the narrative likewise relies heavily on autobiography and treats similar themes, like Jewish identity, the end result creates less of an impact on readers than do Halfon’s 2008 The Polish Boxer or his 2018 Mourning.
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