"I had never felt the passage of time as strong as having a child at home"

"I had never felt the passage of time as strong as having a child at home"

Eduardo Halfon presents two texts simultaneously in Argentina.

Two books by the Guatemalan writer Eduardo Halfon were published in unison in our country, “Saturn” and “Any Child”: the first is a very brief epistolary text to the father that he wrote more than twenty years ago, the second is the last one that he edited and there he brings together several texts from the first five years of his son’s life, in both being a father and being a son are illuminated and they darken, and also fork like memory, to return to some of the themes that mark the author’s narrative project: childhood, the history of his country, that of his family, uprooting and reading.

Rarely do two works by an author arrive at the same time to show the transformations of a narrative voice, the themes, its tones, the deformations, or its continuity. In Argentina, the publishing house Gog & Magog published “Saturno”, Halfon’s first book that came out in 2003 and then it circulated very little, perhaps due to the belligerence of the text against a father; The other novelty that Libros del Asteroides launched is “A son any”, the last volume of stories that he wrote from Berlin. Two links in a chain that come together and say a lot about the author’s narrative project. There is something in both books that is enhanced and it is paternity: as a prism, as a memory trigger, or a belligerent cry of a change as radical as the one Halfon himself made: leave engineering and be born as a writer.

There is a flesh and blood Eduardo Halfon who was born in Guatemala and later lived in many countries -now in Germany-, who trained as an engineer and later turned to writing, published many books and is the father of a small child and cares for vaccinations and the organization of the school; and there is another Halfon who is in his books, takes his name and is the literary voice that guides his latest texts, where he himself recognizes a narrative project whose beginning he places in “The Polish Boxer.” “A kind of scaffolding or solar system is being put together, which is actually a single book, what happens is that I have been writing it in installments, in stages. But eventually what will be published, when I die or when the other Eduardo Halfon dies, it is a kind of episodic novel of his adventures,” he tells Télam in a video call from his home in Berlin.

The raw material with which Halfon builds his literature could be said to be the memory of his childhood, his family, his country of origin, and also of experiences such as uprooting (he has lived in several countries), death, birth, violence and literature itself, that artifact that transformed him into one of the most outstanding authors of the region. “Although it resembles my reality, it is all fiction, I feel that all literature is autobiographical and it is fiction, be it memoirs, be it poetry, be it autobiography. Emilio Renzi was Ricardo Piglia, Arturo Belano was Roberto Bolaño, Madame Bovary is me, said Flaubert” .

his first book “Saturn” is a letter of rage to a tyrannical and aggressive father and the son in that letter only asks for a word -which the father does not give-, perhaps for that reason, it is then, that the son decides to fill it with words, while putting together a collection of funerals, deaths and suicides of writers. “It was as if you, father, were unaware of your power. Your apathy was powerful,” he writes. On the other hand, “Any child” has a luminous potential, lightened by the pen of a writer who has become a father. It is a set of stories that Halfon wrote in the first five years of his son’s life and where the memory of childhood in Guatemala, the construction of the reader, the birth of the writer and the son, the fear of the father intersect for the pain of the son, or the portrait of injustice and inequality. “These last few years have been one of absolute disorder due to the arrival of my son, due to the pandemic, because we have been living in each city for a year, but they have been the most fruitful in my literary career,” he says.

-Télam: How do these books dialogue?

-Eduardo Halfon: “Saturno” was my entrance text to literature, it was a scream, a terrible tantrum of a narrator who enters literature screaming and kicking, very necessary in my case. Because I had to break, undo, destroy, in order to build something new. The engineer, the well-behaved, the firstborn, I had to exploit all of that and I did it through this little book. And the narrator of the book looks a lot like me but he doesn’t have my name, although he has all my all my characteristics, and the father of the book looks a lot like my father with the only exception that my father is alive, me in the text I killed him. And this was psychoanalytically very important: the fact of killing the father in order to escape to literature. Now, in the case of this new Argentine edition, it is very interesting that it arrives at the same time as “A son of any kind”, so it is a return to the theme of the father, of paternity, but now it is no longer written by someone who is a son but someone who, in addition to being a son, is a father. Now I am a son who is also a father and that changes things in some way.

-T: In “Saturno” the birth of the writer is presented, while in one of the stories of “Any child” the death of the engineer Halfon is told. How do life and death coexist in that voice?

-EH: It was a dramatic change when I left one life and started another. It was unexpected because I did not come from literature, I had no literary ambitions or literary knowledge or desire to be a writer, it was a surprise for everyone around me, my friends, my family. There were no indications, it was very fast and very sudden. Overnight he had left one life and entered another. With “Any child” I wanted to resume that change with more distance.

-T: And in that counterpoint between life and death what is outlined is time, how did paternity intervene in that way of perceiving it?

-EH: I had never felt the passage of time as strong as having a child at home. It’s like having an hourglass in front of you and you see the granules drip day by day. Before the son or daughter you know that time is passing you know and that you are approaching your own death, there is an implicit mortality but with the son that mortality becomes explicit. It has physical evidence that time is running and running fast and it is your own death that you are seeing there. So, the topic of death, although I wasn’t looking for it, in the last six years, well, it called me. These stories that appear in “Any child” touch the theme of death but in a very different way from “Saturno”, where I was interested not only in the death of writers by their own hands, but also in their own death as a metaphor.

Halfon delighted the Argentine public in 2020 with the chronicles of his bizarre Library
Halfon delighted the Argentine public in 2020 with the chronicles of his “Bizarre Library”.

-T: And just like in the relationship with time, do you think that literature crossed your way of writing, to the extent that it impacted your way of living?

-EH: It’s inevitable, it’s like the tide. To begin with, it changes your routine completely and for someone who had been writing at ease for 15 years that was something very dramatic. The first year was very difficult for me because I couldn’t quickly adapt to this new way of living. On the other hand, I already see my father differently. I have a little more patience with him, I have much more empathy for him, that is, there are already characteristics of him that I cannot judge so strongly, with so much rancor. So, if you change with the arrival of a son of a daughter, obviously you also change as a writer because the writing is going to reflect this, maybe not explicitly because my themes continue to be my themes, my fears continue to be my fears, the stories that catch my attention remain the same, but whoever is writing them has somehow changed. So the pen also writes in a slightly different way.

Those changes, although I sense them, I could not describe them clearly, but I feel that my readers can, that those who have been following this book project probably notice something now that was not there before.

-T: In addition to the relationship with the son or the father’s view of what the child does, in these stories we return to Guatemala, to childhood.

-EH: I didn’t expect that having a child would activate memories of myself, of my own childhood, things that I had forgotten or that I had buried and suddenly I see an attitude in him and I remember something of my own childhood, like a mirror. There is a memory trigger through your son and for a writer who works a lot with memory, as is my case, especially with the memory of my childhood, those 70s in Guatemala, it has been very rich to dust off memories.

-T: In “Canción”, one of the books that are attached to this narrative project, you said in the writing there is to say with respect to reality. Also in paternity almost nests a social and political function that is memory. Are they related?

-EH: Not only my memory but family memory, the memory of a people, the Jew, the memory of my parents, my grandparents, a whole series of memories that are coming to you. I have always considered memory the writer’s raw material: a falsified memory, a memory that you later turn into fiction but that serves as a trigger, as a starting point for all this that you are going to build later. The national or Latin American social family political memories, which bring us so much together, with so much disastrous history, all of this is implicit in the process of remembering.

-T: You talk about disastrous stories and in this new book you deal a lot with the violence in Guatemala, the indigenous genocide, issues that you also worked on in other texts, sometimes from uprooting, other times as an epochal portrait.

-EH: I had been avoiding the subject of the civil war because it was a war that I did not consider mine, I lived it far away in the United States, first, overprotected in a bubble of the Guatemalan upper middle class, a class that continues to deny that all this happened, which continues to deny the genocide. And it’s not until I find the story of my grandfather’s kidnapper, from “Canción”, that I start to get closer to it. But I haven’t left the topic, because I don’t get rid of a topic when I finish writing a text, I don’t get rid of it, I think I understand it less and I keep trying to find other ways of narrating it, other gateways and that It happened to me with the war in Guatemala.

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