Friday, November 30, 2012

The Polish Boxer, by Eduardo Halfon

Bellevue Literary Press, 2012
originally published as El boxeador polaco, 2008
translated by Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead and Anne McLean
188 pp
softcover, ARC from the publisher (thank you!!)

 I'm quite proud to say that when some time back, World Literature Today sent an email asking for donations to help get this book and its author the recognition it deserves, I kicked in a few dollars to help out.  Now I'm equally proud to say it was worth every single penny I gave them.  This is a wonderful book -- and I hope it gets a lot of attention from the reading public.  While it may not be everyone's cup of tea (and it seems like most books I read fall under that heading -- that and obscure reading material), underneath the wonderful set of stories here, the novel says a lot about readers, writers and life in general.

I loved this book. Without saying much about the full storylines here (you really have to experience this book yourself), I read this book twice -- the first time through I didn't like the disjointed feel of the book, but then when I got to the ending, something the author said made me think that perhaps I should go back and read it again. The light bulb over my head flashed on after the second read and I realized that what is important in this book is not that there are little stories wrapped up to our satisfaction as readers, all neatly tied up in a cohesive sort of way (because there aren't)  but rather that we spend a lot of time in life trying to sort out some kind of meaning when all the while it seems to escape us. What we think we know doesn't always turn out to be the reality. While frustration is part of the journey, it's setting out on the overall quest that is important as well as what we find along the way. We may never get to the actual point of our destination, but that's also reality. Life is obviously not a well-ordered series of answers, and the author illustrates this point by leaving many things undisclosed in this novel, for example: whatever happened to Milan Rakic? What was Juan Kalel's future as seen by the fortune teller? What does it mean when a gypsy does a pirouette? (I really wanted to know the answer to this one!) Are all of these episodes really parts of the life of Eduardo Halfon or is it all one big fiction -- all things we will never really know.

As Halfon says, "Literature is no more than a good trick a magician or a witch might perform, making reality appear whole, creating the illusion that reality is a single unified thing." The uncomfortable feeling I got while reading this book the first time through reflects my own expectations that this book would flow like a cohesive narrative and that all would eventually be revealed, when in fact, reality isn't that simple -- it's often a series of incohesive events and discoveries. I actually wish more authors would take this approach in their writing, capturing life as it really is -- in reality there is always something left undone, unfound, unanswered. Most of what we read, however, hands us the answers on a plate -- every dilemma solved, every base covered, every moment answered for, when in fact there are often big holes and big questions left unanswered.

The Polish Boxer is an extremely clever novel, and one that requires a lot of postread thought, and I could go on and on but suffice it to say, I loved it. There are some things I didn't like -- the orgasm drawings, the sometimes ridiculous conversations between Halfon and his girlfriend -- but I loved his use of language and the ideas thrown out here. Beautiful book -- highly recommended.

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