Pola Oloixarac on Julián Fuks
GRANTA 121: BEST OF YOUNG BRAZILIAN NOVELISTS
Introduced by previous Best of Young Novelists
Julián Fuks was born in São Paulo and is the son of Argentinian parents. He has worked as a reporter for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo and as a reviewer for the magazine Cult. Fuks is the author of Fragmentos de Alberto, Ulisses, Carolina e eu (2004) and Histórias de literatura e cegueira (2007), which was a finalist for the Telecom Award as well as the Jabuti Award. His latest novel, Procura do romance (2011), was shortlisted for the São Paulo Prize for Literature and longlisted for the Telecom Award. ‘The Dinner’ (‘O jantar’) is a new story. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Julían Fuks is introduced by previous Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelist Pola Oloixarac.
Sebastián, a former child who grew up in Brazilian exile, returns to what lingers of his Buenos Aires home. He finds himself on difficult ground: coldly received by his porteña aunt, no cousins to talk to, even his notion of Buenos Aires comes in as essentially literary (when referring to the city, he quotes a poem by Jorge Luis Borges). Time and memory are the playing fields where Julián Fuks essays an interesting, newfangled take on the gothic past of South America.
When we met for coffee in Buenos Aires, Julian told me that his parents, two doctors, fled the dictatorship in 1978 after the kidnap and torture of the chief of the psychiatric hospital where they worked (rumours had escalated that the hospital had become ‘too progressive’); the couple knew they were next. Years later, when Julián was a little boy, they tried to settle back, but Argentina was at the brink of a new catastrophe (the economic crisis of ’89), and the family went back to Sao Paulo. Julian’s favourite writer is the Argentine, Paris-based, prolific and late Juan José Saer. It is a rare pleasure to read Saer’s influence through the Brazilian music of Julián Fuks’ language, with his keen and almost obsessive eye for detail. A gauzy finesse that shines thru his debut novel, Procura do romance, where Sebastián’s story, in his Brazilian-Spanish idiom, expands to a larger philosophical voyage.
In ‘The Dinner’, Sebastián endures the words of his Argentine aunt, a dry woman who hates Argentina’s president Cristina Kirchner and defends the dictatorship leaders. In a stance that would enamour Cristina’s hardcore supporters, Sebastián vindicates the Argentine politics of memory, and though one can disagree with the way the 1970s tragedy has been politically abused, Fuks’ fresco of prime right-wing-Argentine-speak, its sheer refusal of empathy despite democracy, is quite exact. The crescendo of the political argument becomes surreal when The Worst Argentine Nightmare appears in the room. Evil remains unscathed; even after exile, he never really left. – Pola Oloixarac, Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, 2010
Ensconced in the entrance hall that grows more and more claustrophobic, Sebastián is an adult, fully grown, a respectable and solemn man. Well-defined muscles, rigid features, a bottle of wine held tightly in his fist. A deceptive outward appearance, for beneath the almost immaculate surface, this respectable man is a wreck, a body in shambles, an adolescent reincarnated with all his insecurities, all his fears renewed. He can imagine a drop of sweat running down his cheek, shattering his aura of tranquillity, undermining the composure of the face that appears in the spyhole.
He doesn’t wait for very long, but the person coming to the door isn’t announced by the sound of footfall, and the silence deprives time of any measurement. In an instant the darkness is undone by light, and in his eyes, now shut, pale circles of luminosity begin bursting. ‘Hola, Sebastián,’ a monotonous voice greets him without affection or enthusiasm, and the hand that grabs him by the shoulder is firm and pulls him close, and the lips that smack a kiss on his cheek are crinkled. His eyes now open, his skin bristling, his body leaning a second too long against this woman who is no longer embracing him, the assault on his senses is too diverse to assimilate. He takes a step back to get a good look at her, returns to an erect posture and examines her face in uncertain recognition. He knows this face or will come to know it. The features are those of his mother but with more pronounced lines, the features his mother’s face will gain one day, in the near future, except for those unruly eyebrows and the wrinkles radiating from her lips, signs of her famous sternness of character.