cover image Canción


Eduardo Halfon, trans. from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn. Bellevue Literary Press, $17.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-954276-07-9

In the absurdist, scattershot latest from Halfon (The Polish Boxer), Beirut-born Jewish textile merchant Halfon’s 1967 kidnapping in Guatemala shapes his Guatemalan writer grandson’s legacy. The grandson Halfon, the narrator, relives his childhood in an attempt to understand why his grandfather was abducted by a butcher turned rebel fighter named Canción before the grandson was born. He interviews Canción’s old comrades in a bar, trying to make sense of Guatemala’s violent history. At a conference for Lebanese writers in Tokyo, which the narrator was invited to despite being neither Lebanese nor able to speak Arabic, audience members call him out as a fraud. The author plays the scene for laughs, though the theme of disguises recurs throughout. Meanwhile, the narrator all but falls in love with a conferee named Aiko, whose own grandfather also suffered wartime brutality. If this is about anything, it’s the messiness of identity, and how the characters use family, country, and history to create themselves and their stories. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t linger long enough on the various characters or situations to keep the reader engaged. It’s the kind of book that aficionados of the author’s work might appreciate, but on its own it tends to frustrate. (Sept.)