A woman remembers her dead lover and explores philosophical topics in 20th-century Argentina in this debut novella.
Steinberg (El Malestar y la Traiciṓn: Ensayos, 1995) brings the reader into Argentina’s Jewish community along with Elvira, whose lover David was killed in 1975. Elvira’s story moves back and forth in time as she slowly explains what happened to David, and recounts stories from her family history, her lovers in the years after David’s death, and her eventual confrontation with the man who was responsible for his killing. Elvira’s narration follows a stream-of-consciousness pattern, shifting between first- and third-person perspectives and between elements of the story’s plot and Elvira’s inner thoughts. (Recalling David, she muses: “I don’t know why I always remember him walking. I had met him when I was fifteen and he was eighteen but I had always imagined he was too mature for everything life would bring his way, even for death.”) Frequent references to maté, Jorge Luis Borges, the newspaper Clarín, and Buenos Aires neighborhoods root the story firmly in its Argentine setting, while tales of ancestors in the shtetls and the exploration of the cabala develop the book’s Jewish themes. The volume, which assumes readers have little knowledge of Argentina, relies on footnotes that appear on nearly every page to keep them informed and to translate the handful of Portuguese words sprinkled into the text, not a common literary practice. Elvira is a poet at heart, and Steinberg’s prose is flowery and descriptive. Sometimes the translation from Spanish results in elegant, eye-catching prose (“The secret was to remember them just by the way their belly buttons looked. They then drew up a marvelous catalogue of navel archaeologies, trying to identify exactly all their qualities and details”). But more often, the translation is clumsy or incoherent: “with her chin on her left hand fist”; “His parents were cousins, that’s why his last name was geometrically reproduced in a children’s maze, almost all of them boys, that would boast of their place in the family tree.” While the novella is unlikely to appeal to plot-driven readers, its poetic and metaphysical tendencies make it suitable for those in search of more conceptual fiction.
A deeply pensive, poetic book, propelled by ideas more than plot, that’s somewhat hampered by an awkward translation.