CANCIÓN by Eduardo Halfon
Translated by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn
For the better part of two decades, Eduardo Halfon has been mining his unique family history for a series of auto-fictional novellas. In this, the (arguably) fifth book, Halfon attends a Lebanese Writers Festival in Tokyo. He is not Lebanese, but his grandfather was born there and, apparently, that is enough. While not quite a comedy of errors, small frictions arise as his Guatemalan Jewish identity takes on greater significance, giving Halfon pause to ponder a dramatic episode in his grandfather’s life: Eduardo Snr’s kidnapping by Guatemalan guerillas.
Rather than harp too much on the circumstantial particulars, Halfon turns his eye to the kidnappers, with a focus on the one known as Canción. What takes shape is an intimate and insightful portrait of a country in the throes of Civil War, and the various people caught up in fighting it. In some ways, it reminded me of Gabriela Ybarra’s The Dinner Guest - there’s the same desperation, banality and downright absurdity of the enterprise - though, unlike Ybarra’s grandfather, Halfon’s was released after a ransom was paid. As the (possibly) final instalment of a a fascinating project, Canción is excellent. As a stand-alone novella, it’s extraordinary.
Canción by Eduardo Halfon (Tr. Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn)
Bellevue Literary Press, 2022