Posts Tagged ‘miracle’

Translated by Katie Jacoby

I couldn’t decide between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky—the salon discussions of the first or the poor bastards of the second; one was a collector’s edition, the other a little battered by the years. I already had García Márquez, Mishima, Kafka, Neruda and Mutis under my arm. Six was the maximum number of books I was allowed. I decided to take both of the Russians for the time being and later decide. I continued examining shelf after shelf.

Besides good authors, I was looking for good books, the kinds I’d never be able to buy new because of the high prices at bookstores, or those rare ones that you can never find, even if you scour all the bookstores in the city. That’s what book swaps are for, the perfect opportunity to divest yourself of books long-forgotten in your house, those ones covered in dust or that prop up a wobbly table, those ones that when you lend them to a friend, deep down you hope to never get back. We don’t actually admit this out loud, though, being as obsessed with numbers as we are. Although no one else notices, it pleases us that our collection expands, that our bookshelves are admired. Ah, you have this gem! I’ve been looking for it all my life. Yes, I have it, and just let me tell you, it was quite the task to get my hands on it. And in exchange for those books we hold such little affection toward, we leave with, for example, a magnificent copy of Tomás González or Sophie’s World.

In France, I didn’t manage to read much, fully concentrated as I was on my advanced studies, so I was naturally dying to read good prose.

When I was just about to scan all the shelves again, I saw it—the book responsible for the trajectory that would end in me scribbling these lines. It was Miracle of the Rose by Jean Genet, an author I’d never read but whose name I’d heard many times in various literary discussions. An alcoholic, drug addict, thief and homosexual: those were the first words that came to my mind. Still, I don’t let my judgment be clouded by details like those. The author had been recommended by Victor—you must read him—and the times are few and far between when he recommends me something that’s not good. Now with another book to add to the ones I was already hauling around, the final decision would be tricky. Neruda and García Márquez were safe, but not Kafka, the other Colombian author, the Russians, the Japanese or the French. Heads would have to be put on the chopping block—two to be precise.

It all happened when I opened to the first page of the book by Genet. It’s possible that it’s happened to you, dear reader; it’s possible that it takes place when you buy a used book or if you are also a fan of book swaps. It’s something completely normal and, what’s more, it had already happened to me before. How can I put it? Miracle of the Rose was on the shelves at the book swap, but it didn’t belong there—it belonged in Daniel’s hands.

I immediately took note of the other people there, scrutinizing them. Before, I saw them only as rivals that might beat me to some treasure; now I looked for a Daniel among them. I wanted to ask him how he had been capable of being such a jerk; I wanted to tell him that Joy didn’t deserve such low treatment. It’s true that I didn’t know his side of the story, but I wanted to tell him that he was a son of a bitch nonetheless. No one at the book swap had the kind of face befitting such a scoundrel. I wanted to be sure, however, so I called Daniel’s name out loud. Nobody looked up. Everyone just continued staring at the shelves, looking for whatever they were looking for.

When it comes to books, I usually go into a sort of trance and barely notice the outside world; the people around me seemed to be the same way, so I said “Daniel” again, this time louder. This time it had an effect, and someone lifted their head up, but maybe because they didn’t recognize the face calling them, they want back to browsing. I went up to him and, touching his arm, said, “Daniel, I need to ask you some questions.” No, you’re mistaken; I’m not Daniel. He wasn’t Daniel. I went back and reread the dedication penned in the Genet book, which went like this:

Finally, you’re about to take off. How time flies! I remember you talking about all your expectations just a few months ago: “Independence, time to think…” Those expectations are now within reach and your dream has become reality; you’re leaving… Daniel, I admire you for always being yourself, for fighting and standing up for your causes. You made me think, made me stop mid-journey, made me take a long look at myself and ask that total stranger: Who are you? What do you want? Why do you long for what you’ve lost?

In my heart, you’ll always remain just as you are, your zest for life, your fascinating way with words, your obsessive loves, your Machado, your Homer, your Cavafy, your literature, your revolutionary heart, your music; your passion for writing, for expressing through words every fiber of your being and every hair on the heads of those around you; your hatred for conventionality and the values entrenched in this society, your unique craziness, your Borges, your oversights.

I never told you this, but I grew to love you, although our friendship never went any further than your visits to my house, strange and unique… I liked it. I hope that you learn a great deal, but more than anything that you come back some day… The first piano concert will be dedicated to you. All that’s left for me to say to you is “Good luck.”

Love, Joy

Write me at: Cll 4 # 15a – 97

I reread it a few more times. I felt sad for Joy and a tremendous hatred for Daniel. Now there were three books that were safe: the French book had joined the ranks of the first two.

I went back to the book swap the next day, hoping to see Daniel. I took Miracle of the Rose with me, hoping that he’d notice me, approach me and say to me: Hey, that’s a good book you’ve got there. This time I wasn’t paying attention to the books, but instead watched all the people there closely. I realized that it’s more difficult to read a face than a page. I couldn’t tell which one was Daniel. Later on, however, I realized that I had seen him, that Daniel had been there after all, and I learned the reasons why he hadn’t said anything about the book.

The book swap lasted only two days, so at the end of the afternoon I felt unsatisfied. I would no longer be able to look for Daniel. Just then, as that door slammed shut, I thought of another that perhaps should have been more obvious from the beginning: Joy. I had her address. But what could I say to Joy? With Daniel, it was clear-cut: How could you get rid of this book so easily, knowing that it was given with so much love? You’re a real douchebag. With Joy, it was totally different. What could I say to her? Do you remember Daniel? Well, look, he gave away the book that you gave him; it didn’t even matter to him, look. No, I could never say such a thing to Joy! But it’s also possible that she had suspected as much—maybe Daniel had come back, they had continued their fling and then for whatever reason had broken it off bitterly, so then the logical thing would be that my news would come as no real blow. However, it could be that she was oblivious. She might not even know that Daniel had come back, seeing as he had never written or called. No, I couldn’t break that kind of news to Joy. The best thing would be for her to devote herself to the piano. Yes, her love and dedication to her art would surely help her forget that prick.

I didn’t want to read Miracle of the Rose immediately, wanting to forget about the whole thing, so I started with Mishima, and later came García Márquez. I was so wowed by him that I checked out all his works from the library. With Mishima and García Márquez, I became eager to read Kawabata, later returning to Mutis, Neruda, and Dostoyevsky. When I finished reading all of them, I went to Victor’s house and he lent me other authors—I didn’t like them as much.

Of all the state prisons of France, Fontevrault is the most disquieting. It was Fontevrault that gave me the strongest impression of anguish and affliction, and I know that convicts who have been in other prisons have, at the mere mention of its name, felt an emotion, a pang, comparable to mine.” I had begun reading the novel so long intentionally forgotten: Miracle of the Rose. I read it in one sitting and when I finished, I immediately ran out of my house, caught a taxi, handed the novel to the driver and told him to take me to that address.

Now that I think about it, Joy wasn’t all that joyful. When she cracked open the door, a sad face said to me without much emotion, “Daniel, when did you get back?”

Felipo Zaná


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