Friday, July 02, 2021


Eduardo Halfon:
I had never been to Japan before. And I had never been asked to be a Lebanese writer. A Jewish writer, yes. A Guatemalan writer, naturally. A Latin American writer, of course. A Central American writer, less and less. An American writer, more and more. A Spanish writer, when it had been preferable to travel with that passport. A Polish writer, once, in a bookstore in Barcelona that insisted – that insists – on placing my books on the Polish literature shelf. A French writer, since I lived for a while in France and some people suppose that I still do. All those disguises I always keep at hand, well-ironed and hanging in the wardrobe. But I had never been invited to participate in something as a Lebanese writer. And it seemed to me no big deal to make myself into an Arab for a day, in a conference at the University of Tokyo, if it gave me a chance to get to know the country.

Canción (translation mine)
Libros del Asteroide in Barcelona has published another installment in Eduardo Halfon's ongoing quasi-fictional project of excavating his family's past, as well as his own and that of his country (or countries). If the narrator (also named Eduardo Halfon) is to be believed (and he isn't always), he was invited to participate in the writers' conference alluded to above on the mistaken assumption that he is Lebanese; in fact his only connection to Lebanon is that his grandfather (also named Eduardo Halfon) was born there — except that strictly speaking he wasn't, since he fled the country when it was still part of Syria. Accused of being an impostor, the narrator retorts that an impostor is exactly what every writer is.

Canción (the title means "song," but that's another complicated issue) begins and ends in Japan, where the narrator attends that conference of Lebanese writers, but the larger part of the book (a rather short one, as all of Halfon's tend to be) is actually devoted to the kidnapping and subsequent release of his grandfather by Guatemalan guerrillas several years before the author was born. Of the five books that Libros del Asteroide has published, this is perhaps the most strictly focused on Guatemala (that curious sojourn in Tokyo aside). It slips back and forth in time, and, like a miniature Conversation in the Cathedral, is centered on an encounter in a bar with an old acquaintance (of sorts). It's both independent of and inextricably connected to the other volumes in the series. Several of the installments are now available in English, with some shuffling of the contents, from Bellevue Literary Press, and hopefully this one will soon join them.

Previous Eduardo Halfon posts:

The Memory Man
Necessary Stories