From the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses 2019 longlist – Resistance by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn).
Resistance is a fairly short novel but one that should on no account be rushed. The language and turns of phrases reward those who savour. It is a story about a family and how each are differently affected by the same experiences, both shared and inherited. The insights offered are meticulous, sympathetic and deserving of attention.
The narrator of the tale is the youngest of three siblings whose parents fled Argentina in the 1970s and settled in Brazil. The couple brought with them their infant son who they had adopted after failing to conceive. They knew little of their new-born’s background – how he came to be offered to them. They were assured it would be better this way.
Their younger two children were born after the forced migration. The children always knew their brother was adopted although it was rarely referred to. The narrator is exploring if, within his family, this difference in birth – parentage and country – had a detrimental effect.
“I’m writing […] a book about that child, my brother, about the pains and experiences of childhood, but also about persecution and resistance, about terror, torture and disappearances.”
Each chapter is short offering a vignette on childhood, a retelling of family mythology, and the narrator’s questioning of the truth behind his memories. He recognises the difficulty of expressing feelings that continue to reverberate across years during which the events will have been retold on a variety of occasions.
“They’re all disposable fictions, nothing but distortions.”
Photograph albums are viewed and an apartment in Argentina visited as the narrator attempts to reconstruct the anecdotes his parents shared.
He recalls missteps, embarrassing incidents when he said or did something he immediately regretted. Childhood experiences leave imprints that grow imprecise in recollection.
There is a careful hesitancy, a striving for authenticity, yet the prose is piercing in its power to convey with clarity the difficulties of being a child in a close knit family whose history involved conflict and deracination.
An Argentinian colleague who was disappeared by the regime is remembered by the narrator’s mother, her story thereby impacting the next generation.
“I never knew Martha Brea, her absence does not live inside me. But her absence lived in our house.”
These family stories are an aspect of a childhood that was itself loving and stable. Also remembered are later difficulties dealing with the elder brother, although these are viewed differently by their parents and perhaps by the subject himself.
“I have tried to construct the ediface of this story, on deeply buried foundations that are highly unstable.”
The narrator is drawing on the experiences of parents and other forebears in an attempt to explore how an adopted child may be impacted when raised alongside unadopted siblings.
“An attempt to forge the meanings life refuses to give us”
The narrator writes of how his brother is regarded by their family and also by the boy’s friends. He acknowledges that the family view can only be his interpretation, and is perhaps not shared by his siblings or their parents.
“Our children always transcend how we think of them.”
After spending two years pulling together his various stories and analysing his thoughts on them he concludes:
“writing about the family and reflecting so much on it isn’t the same as experiencing it, sharing its routine, inhabiting its present.”
The narrator can only view his brother through a personal lens.
As a reader it is not so much the unfolding history, interesting though it is, that affected; rather, it is the carefully considered depiction of family and their interpretations of shared memories that reverberates.
The prose is breathtaking in its power and beauty, carefully crafted and always engaging. This was a joy to read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Charco Press.