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The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon

The Polish Boxer

by Eduardo Halfon

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English (36)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Not sure how I feel about this one, and it's all due to the protagonist. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Dec 30, 2018 |
3.5 stars. The Polish Boxer is a lovely novel-in-stories that looks at the slipperiness of nationality and identity: Halfon crosses lots of geographical and psychological borders, setting his stories (told by Eduardo Halfon) in places like Guatemala, Serbia, and North Carolina. The result is puzzlingly satisfying.

(There's more on my blog, here.) ( )
  LizoksBooks | Dec 15, 2018 |
I had to reread some of this book before I could review - to me it was not an easy read - translated from Spanish to English - there are several, interconnected short stories that seem to be the author's fiction memoir, a Guatemalan literature professor - some serious topics about exploring the meaning of life... ( )
1 vote Jjean7 | May 15, 2017 |
Eduardo Halfon's first novel was a pleasure to read, and so full of spectacular images that I know my thoughts will return to his stories often. Though his style is straightforward, and some of his language distinctly commonplace, his approach works, as the occasional forays into more philosophical or contemplative domains do not overwhelm. In other words he knows how to season the food so that it is neither too salty nor too spicy nor too plain. I was reminded several times of Roberto Bolano; the comparison does not hurt Mr Halfon. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Oct 11, 2016 |

No, the tattooed six-digit number visible on the arm of the narrator's grandfather is not his phone number as he tells his grandson - it is his inmate number from Auschwitz.

Eduardo Halfon, the narrator/author of The Polish Boxer is a literature professor at a college in Guatemala that seems to be rather frustrated by his job. Year after year he is teaching students that don't take the slightest interest in literature - but the rare exceptions make up for this disappointment. Juan Kale, an Indio student is such an exception; he is not only very intelligent and attentive, it turns out that he is also a genuine poet. When he drops out of college all of a sudden, Eduardo wants to find out why...

Later Halfon meets together with his girlfriend a talented classical Serbian/Gypsy pianist at a festival in Antigua; the pianist sends him later strange postcards from all over the world with rather cryptic messages that deal with the origin, fate, and culture of the Gypsy people and especially with their music. Without remarking it first, the narrator gets more and more drawn into the Gypsy music and once the postcards suddenly come to a stop, he travels to Belgrade to find out what happened to Rakic, the pianist who was an outsider in the Serbian and the Gypsy society as well.

And there is the story of Halfon's grandfather, who survived Auschwitz thanks to the help of a Polish Boxer - that's what he tells Eduardo, although when a TV crew interviews him about his concentration camp survival, he tells them that he survived exclusively due to his skills as a carpenter. The classical unreliable narrator.

These three stories plus a few smaller ones are interwoven in Eduardo Halfon's novel. While it starts like a classical campus novel in which a literature professor is talking about different authors and his concept of literature, later visiting an interdisciplinary Mark Twain conference in the United States, the focus shifts completely to questions of identity when he meets the pianist Rakic, who is rejecting his Serbian heritage and wants to become a Gypsy (since he is of mixed origin, he is shunned by both communities). The author/narrator, a Jew that rejects his Jewish heritage ("I have retired from being Jewish", he says somewhere) is probably attracted to Rakic's story so much because Rakic, just like him wants to get rid of a part of his heritage in order to become someone else - but that is of course not possible.

The chapter about the Indio poet would make in my opinion a great stand-alone short story. But since Kale is dropped and never again mentioned during the rest of the book, I was wondering why his story was included in the novel. The same goes even for the story of the Polish Boxer, since the main character in the book (beside the author) is neither the Polish Boxer nor the grandfather, it is the enigmatic pianist. Halfon can write and many pages are really gripping, but as a novel, the book disappointed me a bit.

My impression of The Polish Boxer is mixed: an interesting author and a text that makes curious to read more by Halfon. As a novel it is for me not very satisfactory. The different parts and story lines fall not always in place, and even the title is a bit odd since we learn next to nothing about The Polish Boxer except the few remarks of the grandfather, a seemingly unreliable storyteller. Maybe we have to wait for Halfon's next book - I read somewhere that he is working on a follow-up novel to The Polish Boxer - and then maybe some of my questions will be answered, who knows.

A few minor mistakes (like Nejgoš instead of Njegoš) could be easily fixed in a new edition. ( )
1 vote Mytwostotinki | Dec 14, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
“These are the stories of life . . . the question of survival (of both people and cultures) and the way the fictional makes the real bearable and intelligible.”
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"I have moved the typewriter into the next room where I can see myself in the mirror as I write."—Henry Miller
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I was pacing among them, moving up and down between the rows of desks as if trying to find my way out of a labyrinth. We were reading from a Ricardo Piglia essay. We read about the dual nature of the short story, and it didn’t surprise me, as I looked out, to be met with a sea of faces covered in acne and heartfelt bewilderment.
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Book description
The Polish Boxer is a semi-autobiographical tale about roots and origins: the subtly subversive longing for lost identity, the emotionally treacherous territory of cultural exile, and the lingering legacy of history’s atrocities. As the narrator—a Guatemalan literature professor and writer named Eduardo Halfon—travels from small Mayan villages to a Scottish bar in Antigua, and from a Mark Twain conference in North Carolina through the memories of his Polish grandfather’s nightmare at Auschwitz and to a Gypsy neighborhood in Serbia, he encounters people whose stories are as rich and diverse as the languages they speak.

Revelatory, courageous, and full of humor, the narrator’s voice is finely attuned to the ways we use language to make art, conversation, music, and love—revealing the nuances of desire and suffering always just below the surface of human interaction. Despite his protest that “Literature is no more than a good trick . . . making reality appear whole, creating the illusion that reality is a single unified thing,” every word in this slim novel is a testament to literature’s power to reveal truths that range well beyond the boundaries of academic reason.
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"Covers a vast landscape of human experience while enfolding a search for origins: a grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather's past and the story behind his numbered tattoo; a Serbian classical pianist longs for his forbidden heritage; a Mayan poet is torn between his studies and filial obligations; a striking young Israeli woman seeks answers in Central America; a university professor yearns for knowledge that he can't find in books and discovers something unexpected at a Mark Twain conference. Drawn to what lies beyond the range of reason, they all reach for the beautiful and fleeting, whether through humor, music, poetry, or unspoken words. Across his encounters with each of them, the narrator--a Guatemalan literature professor and writer named Eduardo Halfon--pursues his most enigmatic subject: himself."--Back cover.

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