The nomadic odyssey of Eduardo Halfon begins as he searches for his roots and information about his Polish grandfather’s imprisonment at Auschwitz
New York Times Editors’ Choice * International Latino Book Award Finalist
The Polish Boxer 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.
Mapping the geography of identity in a world scarred by a legacy of violence and exile, The Polish Boxer marks the debut of a major new Latin American voice in English.
The main character in The Polish Boxer is named Eduardo Halfon, a Guatemalan writer and literature professor not unlike the book's author, with the same name and biography. Thus right away, we're in the murky half-light where fiction meets memoir meets memory and the impossibility thereof. It's interesting territory, but it's not immediately clear what that slippage does to enhance the loose skein of past and present events that befall Eduardo. What it does do is provide a built-in explanation for the lack of tidiness: these are the stories of life, not those of the more manufactured fictional version, the book suggests. Whether the stories are true is beside the point: they're interesting in their own right. Eduardo suffers the bored contempt of his students; discovers the Mayan world that makes up the other Guatemala; finally learns the story of how his grandfather survived Auschwitz; and in the longest section, meets a traveling half-Serbian, half-Gypsy musician and then goes to Serbia to try to track him down. At the end, when his grandfather, the canny or lucky survivor, dies, and Halfon delivers a talk on how "literature tears through reality," we come meandering back to the questions that, as we now understand, animate this book: the question of survival (of both people and cultures) and the way the fictional makes the real bearable and intelligible, if not always neat.