cover image Monastery


Eduardo Halfon, trans. from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 ISBN 978-1-934137-82-6

In this sequel to 2012’s The Polish Boxer, Eduardo, a secular Guatemalan Jew, has travelled to Israel to attend (or not) his sister’s wedding to an ultra-Orthodox man from Brooklyn. Along the way, he encounters a former girlfriend, the Wailing Wall, the “separation wall,” and the Dead Sea, all of which elucidate and complicate his thoughts on his own family history and sense of self. Most poignant are Eduardo’s moments of observation, such as when his sister’s fiancé brings him and his brother to watch the Haredi rabbi pray. As Eduardo and his brother leave the neighborhood that night, after the beginning of Shabbat, they are stoned for getting in a taxi. Eduardo’s brother’s reply is at once provocative and stifling: “whether you accept it or not, you’re as Jewish as all of them.... It’s in your blood.” But this logic of genetics, Eduardo thinks, comes too close to the Nazi line of reasoning. The novel is bookended by these resonant self-investigations, as well as contrasting snapshots of Israeli life. Less successful is the disjointed middle section, which is set in Central America in what seems to be the future but remains difficult to connect to the rest of the plot. Overall, however, Halfon gives voice to a lesser-known sector of the Jewish diaspora, reminding us in the process of the ways in which identity is both fluid and immutable. [em](Oct.) [/em]