With this sly, quietly penetrating account of life on the road—a quasi-fictional journey containing sharp reflections on his Jewish ancestry—gifted young Guatemalan writer Halfon picks up where he left off with his acclaimed The Polish Boxer (2012).
The narrator declares himself a "retired" Jew who "can't imagine a prayer, any prayer, having a meaning more profound than a mother's good-night kiss." During a visit to Jerusalem to attend his rigidly observant sister's wedding, he feels nothing when he touches the Western Wall. But for all his coldness toward religion, and his claim that "every journey is meaningless," this descendent of Polish and Lebanese grandparents is inspired by his travels and moved by his far-flung encounters with people who radiate belief. They include a Harlem woman who hosts private jazz concerts in her apartment "as a way of surviving Sundays," having lost her son; self-sufficient coffee growers in Guatemala who believe the quality of their beans reflects their own inner values; and, in her own way, a flight attendant he runs into in Israel with whom he's had an oddly erotic encounter in the past. One of this author's special attributes is never forcing meaning on his experiences, letting us judge the mundane factor of certain moments. But he's also great at reversing our initial impressions of people and places. A stone-faced border guard who denies the narrator passage into Belize shows different colors in a barroom. In the end, Halfon says, "Everyone decides how to save themselves." We can only be happy he decided to become a writer.
A rising star among Latin writers, Halfon is a lively traveling companion, even at his most pessimistic.