Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: Eduardo Halfon’s “The Polish Boxer,” a Giveaway, and the Return of the “Is-It-Really-a-Novel?” Question
If you’ve made it past the ridiculously long post title, maybe you’ll bear with me a moment longer.
Remember back in July, when we were talking about the categories of novels and (linked) short-story collections? Remember that I described some difficulties that I had encountered reading Shani Boianjiu’s novel, simply because it was being presented and marketed as a novel–and I saw it more as a story collection?
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Or somewhat the same thing. My latest book review, published last week in The Jewish Journal, discusses Eduardo Halfon’s The Polish Boxer (translated, as I note in the review, by a group of translators: Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead and Anne McLean).
The review begins:
Several factors drew me to Eduardo Halfon’s “The Polish Boxer,” translated by Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead and Anne McLean (Bellevue Literary Press: $14.95), including its billing (in the industry bible Publishers Weekly and elsewhere) as a semi-autobiographical novel in which the 40-ish author explores the experience of his Auschwitz-survivor grandfather. Moreover, unlike most of the Anglophone writing penned by grandchildren of Holocaust refugees and survivors that I’ve discovered to date, “The Polish Boxer” would present me with a work in translation, as the author was born in Guatemala in 1971. (Halfon immigrated to Florida with his family 10 years later and currently divides his time between Nebraska and Guatemala; he continues to write in Spanish.)
The book itself is impressive, and I’ll tell you why. But it’s important to offer some comments and clarifications in case you, too, encounter the sound bites and publicity lines about the book that came my way before I read it.
First, if you’re expecting a conventional novel, you’d best adjust those expectations. “The Polish Boxer” comprises 10 titled sections; I’ll call them short stories, because that’s what they are.
I hope that you’ll read the full review, but if you’re in a hurry, I’ll cut to the chase with this snippet:
Regardless of whether it is deemed a novel, a story collection or, for all we know, autobiography, this book provides multiple pleasures: clear, intense prose; sharp, laugh-out-loud depictions of classrooms and conferences (perhaps appreciated especially by those readers with academic backgrounds); and the apparent seamlessness of the translations (if you didn’t know that this version is the result of an unusual collaborative effort among several translators, I suspect you wouldn’t guess).
Then, of course, there’s the fact that the book itself gives a resounding retort to those who might dismiss it as “another” book “about” the Holocaust. This book is different, pure and simple.
In some amazingly coincidental timing, the review was published the very same day that a gift copy of the book–signed by translator Daniel Hahn at the behest of an exceedingly thoughtful and generous gift-giving friend of mine who is Hahn’s colleague–arrived in the mail. Which means that I have a (gently used) review copy that I’d be happy to mail out to someone at a U.S. address as a holiday gift. What say you? I’ll consider all commenters for this giveaway. Just comment here by Sunday, December 9 at 5 p.m. Some random number generating will ensue. UPDATE: Congratulations to Barbara Green, our giveaway winner! Barbara, please contact me and send your mailing address so I can get the book out to you. Thanks to everyone for playing along!