Eduardo Halfon (Mourning; Monastery) has published a dozen books in Spanish; four are currently available in English translations. Seeming to challenge his substantial output, Halfon explained in a 2015 comment to Shelf Awareness, "I'm only writing one book, and everything I publish along the way is just part of it. As if each book I write is a page or a chapter." That "one book" is comprised of intriguing autobiographical fictions in which Halfon often inserts himself into multilayered narratives inspired by his globally scattered extended family. In the exquisite Canción, a fictional writer--also named Eduardo Halfon--attempts to understand his grandfather's extraordinary life.
"I arrived in Tokyo disguised as an Arab," Eduardo (the character) admits as he's greeted at the airport in three languages--Arabic, Spanish, English--by a delegation representing a Lebanese writers' conference to which he's been invited. His questionable Lebanese credentials originate from his Beirut-born Jewish grandfather (also his namesake); he was legally Syrian, given that Lebanon wasn't a country until 1920, three years after he left Beirut. The older Eduardo's globe-trotting ended in Guatemala, where in 1967, during the decades-long Guatemalan civil war, he was kidnapped and then released by guerillas. The author brilliantly weaves what is personal with the real-life horrors of war: Kaibiles forces, the Dos Erres massacre, the vicious murder of rebel Rogelia Cruz.
Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn, who have translated previous books by Halfon, work in consultation with the author. The results are nonlinear vignettes that cross decades, countries, characters and world events in a gorgeously rendered meditation on borderless identity, historical traumas and ongoing repercussions. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon