THE ONE-HANDED PIANIST and Other Stories by Ilan Stavans


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A first collection of stories, including a novella and also an autobiographical essay, from the Mexican-born critic best known for his journalism and nonfiction studies of Latino history and culture (such as The Hispanic Condition, p. 151). The unifying theme of Stavans's fiction is announced in the essay ""Lost in Translation"" (written in English), which summarizes his Jewish-Mexican origins, ethnic and intellectual disorientation, and literary ambitions: ""the mysteries of my divided identity."" The stories, which are uniformly discursive and so muted and dispassionate they scarcely feel fictional at all, concern thinly sketched protagonists and narrators caught in dreamlike states of derangement or incompletion. ""A Heaven Without Crows"" is an imaginary letter written by the dying Franz Kafka to his friend and literary executor Max Brod explaining why Kafka wishes his writings destroyed (""nothing imperfect should survive""). ""House Repossessed"" constructs but does not develop an arresting metaphor for a girl's alienation from her own sexual nature. ""The Spot"" on a man's shirt provokes a fantasy of disease and disintegration; and ""The One-Handed Pianist"" neurotically insists she's losing one of her hands--but neither piece does much with its originating idea. ""The Invention of Memory"" posits an intriguing situation--a married woman's furtive fixation on her new neighbor--but the relationship between her loneliness and his enervation (he's a ""memory expert"" whose powers are lapsing) is never made clear. And the novella (""Talia in Heaven"") is an autobiographical fantasy in which Ilan Stavans/""Daniel Stabans""/Igal Balkoff (a revolutionary guerrilla) explores different ways of experiencing love, art, danger, and political commitment in an unstable culture where ""A Jew is always a citizen from another land."" The impulse behind these fictions is sometimes strongly felt, but their development is murky and inchoate: They all read like component parts of a single semi-coherent, perhaps unfinishable story.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0810124602
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Univ. of New Mexico