I had read much about Guatemalan author’s “The Polish Boxer” for months before I finally got around to reading it and from all the good things I read about this book, it far exceeded my expectations. This is a very interesting novel in many respects, especially the way its structured. While it is a novel, it can also be read as a series of interconnected stories that can stand on their own very well if one wanted them to.
Each story concerns a literature professor/writer named “Eduardo Halfon” as he experiences different cultures and people: a shy, talented writing student from rural Guatemala who one day vanishes from his class; the story behind the numbers tattooed on his grandfather’s arm; his encounter with a Serbian pianist who longs for his Gypsy roots; his encounter with a learned literature professor at a Mark Twain conference; meeting two Israeli women at a local bar, one of whom is seeking “answers” in Central America; and his trip to Serbia seeking out the Serbian pianist after receiving a series of literary postcards before he disappears. Each one of these stories work brilliantly on their own and they are filled with interesting insights and fantastic writing. These stories do not go where you expect them to go and that’s what makes them so unique. What ties them all together is the idea of experience and openness to differing perspectives and points of view, although all of them are told from Eduardo’s perspective.
The title of this novel is something of a misnomer since the bulk of this story concerns itself with Eduardo and Milan, the Serbian/Gypsy pianist, and Eduardo’s trip to Serbia and encountering Gypsy culture is a very interesting read, not only for its glimpse into the Gypsy lifestyle but also of their status as “The Other” in their society - which is a theme that also ties these stories together. Halfon, being of Guatemalan, and Polish-Jewish background, he himself seems to straddle two worlds as does the character of “Eduardo Halfon”.
Which brings up another interesting theme: There is a story - or interlude, really - which concerns itself with Eduardo being invited to speak at a literary conference regarding how literature can sometimes “break through” real life and insert itself, sometimes blurring the line between them. This wonderful book is a prime example of how it often can and ultimately, I think, this is what this book is about. A brilliant work - the first and only work of his translated into English, but hopefully that will soon change. I recommend this one highly. Halfon is most definitely an author to keep an eye out for.