The War in Bom Fim

Moa­cyr Scliar; David William Fos­ter, trans.
  • Review
By – August 26, 2011
Moa­cyr Scliar, one of Latin America’s most impor­tant con­tem­po­rary writ­ers, per­haps sees him­self as a spir­i­tu­al heir to Sholem Ale­ichem and oth­ers who have trans­formed Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture into uni­ver­sal expe­ri­ence. The key, he says, is Jew­ish humor— fun­ny, yes; but bit­ter­sweet, melan­choly; a defense against despair, that makes peo­ple think. The War in Bom Fim is a slim book about a small Jew­ish neigh­bor­hood in an urban cen­ter of Brazil. Sup­pose, dur­ing World War II, the Nazis had invad­ed the Amer­i­c­as, using Bom Fim as their spring­board? The invaders, try­ing to estab­lish a beach­head not far from the town, are fought by chil­dren, who are for­ti­fied with their belief in pow­er­ful fig­ures from Jew­ish and pop­u­lar folk­lore.

With believ­able, sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ters, and pow­er­ful, ele­gant prose, Moa­cyr Scliar uses all the tools of his rich her­itage — fan­ta­sy, mag­i­cal real­ism, irony, and cul­tur­al expe­ri­ences, weav­ing a mul­ti-lay­ered, harm­less— seem­ing fairy tale that encour­ages the read­er to explore recent his­tor­i­cal events, prej­u­dice and anti-Semi­tism, inequal­i­ty, moder­ni­ty vs. tra­di­tion, the adult world as opposed to the thoughts and action of the young­sters, and just about every aspect of the lives of the towns­peo­ple. The Intro­duc­tion, by the trans­la­tor, David William Fos­ter, gives a brief his­to­ry of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in Brazil, and bio­graph­i­cal back­ground about the author.
Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

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