The Jewish Son [excerpt] — Daniel Guebel (tr. Jessica Sequeira)

It wasn’t the first horror film I ever saw, but it’s the one that fueled my childhood nightmares. Mr. Sardonicus was its name. For years, what I retained of its plot is this summary: an extremely poor peasant who works the land in the middle of nowhere buys a lottery ticket with the hope of changing his luck. A few days later, his father dies and he must give up his best suit, so the dead man can enter the darkness looking sharp.A couple of weeks later, the lottery ticket comes out a winner and the peasant searches for it all over his house, but can’t find it. All of a sudden he remembers he put it in the inner pocket of the jacket the deceased is now wearing. The dilemma: profane the tomb and get rich, or respect the dead man’s rest and stay poor.

At night, armed with a shovel and lantern, he goes to the town cemetery, digs up the coffin and opens it. What he didn’t foresee is that the corruption of the corpse would already have begun its work, so the face of his father is deformed into a horrifying rictus, the muscles of the cheeks pulling the lips upward to expose the teeth in a kind of sardonic grimace. The peasant gives a cry of horror, an extreme spine-tingling cry that stretches and deforms his muscles. Now he is a millionaire, but his face stays fixed as a reflection of the paternal sneer.


Kafka never understood the nature of paternal affection, of shame as a mask. Who told him his father never read his writing? Where did he get the idea that the best way to read a son is to read the books the son writes? Every few years, the publisher who edits most of my books sends a note saying I can now withdraw “excess copies,” that is, the copies of my books that haven’t sold, and that otherwise will be sent off to be pulped. Once, since I didn’t have any place to store them, I sent a few boxes to my father’s house. In those days he could still walk, at least to take a turn around the block.

A few days later, Elvira, the weekend nurse, told me my father had asked her to bring along some copies, and they’d gone from house to house leaving them in front of doors and garages, inside neighbors’ postboxes. My father had no reason to read me, but giving away his son’s books was a way of showing his love.

The Jewish Son is out soon with Seven Stories Press. You can order a copy here.

Daniel Guebel has published over twenty-five books, including novels, short stories and plays. He won Argentina’s National Literature Prize as well as the Argentine Academy of Letters’ novel prize. The Jewish Son won the Buenos Aires Book Fair’s award for literary criticism.

Jessica Sequeira is a writer, editor and translator living in Santiago, Chile. Twitter: @jess_sequeira