People are not always who they seem; neither are things. In this slim collection, Ilan Stavans masterfully explores these and other themes against backgrounds of political unrest and latent anti-Semitism. The title story is taken from the real-life “kidnapping” of a prominent Belgian actor, blamed on neo-Nazis. Three weeks later, the story’s protagonist, thinner and disheveled, emerges from a sewer with feces in his hair. Was the actor playing another role, kidnapping himself? Why? And what about his family, and the roles they play? The novella, “morirse esta en hebreo,” is about the death of Moishe Tartakovsky, a wealthy Mexican businessman, and the week of shivah. Relatives and visitors reminisce; the many facets of his life come to light, flavored with bits of Mexican Jewish foods, music and culture. Outside, elections are taking place that will change the government, but probably not improve its relationship with the Jews. “Do we love this country to death? Only as long as it allows us to live in the margins of time.…” The haunting story “xerox man” explores the concept of originality, and the value of copies. The title character Xeroxes major works of Hebrew religion and literature. He loves New York, the city that doesn’t try to be like anyplace else- it just imitates itself. Finally, is this world real? Or just a flawed Xerox?
Ilan Stavans’ writing is lean, elegant, very readable and thought provoking. Magical realism comes to mind, but there is nothing supernatural in these stories.