cover image The Polish Boxer

The Polish Boxer

Eduardo Halfon, trans. from the Spanish by Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead, and Anne McLean. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-934137-53-6

The main character in The Polish Boxer is named Eduardo Halfon, a Guatemalan writer and literature professor not unlike the book’s author, with the same name and biography. Thus right away, we’re in the murky half-light where fiction meets memoir meets memory and the impossibility thereof. It’s interesting territory, but it’s not immediately clear what that slippage does to enhance the loose skein of past and present events that befall Eduardo. What it does do is provide a built-in explanation for the lack of tidiness: these are the stories of life, not those of the more manufactured fictional version, the book suggests. Whether the stories are true is beside the point: they’re interesting in their own right. Eduardo suffers the bored contempt of his students; discovers the Mayan world that makes up the other Guatemala; finally learns the story of how his grandfather survived Auschwitz; and in the longest section, meets a traveling half-Serbian, half-Gypsy musician and then goes to Serbia to try to track him down. At the end, when his grandfather, the canny or lucky survivor, dies, and Halfon delivers a talk on how “literature tears through reality,” we come meandering back to the questions that, as we now understand, animate this book: the question of survival (of both people and cultures) and the way the fictional makes the real bearable and intelligible, if not always neat. Agent: Andrea Montejo, the Indent Literary Agency. (Oct.)