Saturday, 5 January 2019


Resistance by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn)    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“Sometimes all that fits inside a pain is silence. Not a silence made from the absence of words: a silence that it absence itself,” writes Sebastián, the narrator of Julián Fuks’s subtle and quietly disconcerting seemingly autofictional novel, in the memoir he is writing as an attempt to gain understanding of, or some connection with, his adoptive older brother. Fuks’s prose is precise, crystalline, superbly translated by Daniel Hahn. Fuks is rigorous in his examination of the relationships within Sebastián’s family, and, more particularly, of the consequences of any attempt to put anything actual into words. “My brother is adopted, but I can’t say and don’t want to say that my brother is adopted. If I say this, if I speak these words that I have long taken care to silence, I reduce my brother to a single categorical condition, a single essential attribute: my brother is something, and this something is the set of marks we insist on looking for, despite ourselves, in his features, in his gestures, in his acts.” Fuks is aware that words, terms, labels subjugate the people and the actualities to which they are applied, pulling them towards consequences and interpretations that may not be inherent but are forced upon them by extrinsic narratives. The ways in which stories and histories are told inevitably affect the patterns and outcomes of those stories. Language is dictatorial over its objects, and Fuks/Sebastián is very aware that, in his “desire to forge the meanings life refuses to give us … I know that I am writing my failure,” unable to avoid “a constant oscillation between silence and error.” The brother’s unknown origins are irresolvable. He cannot be assimilated into the family. He resists nourishment and nurturing. But what is the source of this alienation? The brother was adopted just before the parents fled Argentina’s dictatorship in the 1970s for Brazil, where Sebastián and his sister were born. During the period of state terrorism that lasted from 1974 to 1983, Argentina’s so-called ‘Dirty War’, over 30,000 people were murdered by military and security forces in collaboration with right-wing death squads. Hundreds of babies were stolen at birth from political prisoners and given to supporters of the regime for adoption. For Sebastián, his brother somehow represents these children, even though he can hardly be one of them, given their parents’ dissident status. Why does the Sebastián cling so tightly to this possibility? Why does he feel the need to include himself, via his brother, in this national trauma? To resolve his brother’s lack of identity by overwriting it with a trauma that makes that lack of identity a necessity further depersonalises the brother, as Sebastián recognises. “This wouldn’t give his life meaning. It’s me, not him, who wants to find a meaning, it’s me who wants to redeem my own immobility, it’s me who wants to go back to belonging to the place where I’ve never actually belonged.” Sebastián wants to undo the brother’s exile within the family by writing the book but intuits that this cannot be achieved. The irresolvable persistence of the unknown, the lacunae, the gap, the missing information that is replaced by narrative prevents this, and prevents the supposed healing that this might provide. But does Sebastián really want to undo his brother’s exile, or is he, along with his parents, responsible for it? The brother becomes the expression of the political and personal traumas visited on the whole exiled family, and his alienation is integral to their identities. The brother, who remains unnamed, cannot bear the narrative weight of an entire family (or an entire nation), but his inability to bear this weight is necessary to this narrative. The brother’s voice is suppressed by Sebastián: “How can I let him speak, attribute even the smallest phrase to him in this fiction?” But the brother is also a sort of catalyst for everything Sebastián does or writes, unreached and unchanged, but enabling some reach or change. Although Sebastián necessarily fails in his memoir to rescue his brother from his status as a cypher, his ostensible objective, or to say anything definitive about the family’s history, Fuks succeeds in this novel, via his character’s failure, in providing insight into the brother’s functional role as the dysfunctional cypher in a ‘happy’ family’s dynamic, and into the way that collective trauma creates a narrative, a single story, that obliterates the individual stories of those affected by that trauma.Resistance is remarkable for its textual reticence, for Julián Fuks’s reluctance to fill in gaps, to create ‘fictional’ replacements for what is lost, for his uncertainty about the absent’s place in the process of resistance, a process which necessarily continues even in memory (or lack thereof), for his portrayal of the quiet, ‘undramatic’ persistence of trauma and its ongoing centrality to the dynamic of survival of that trauma, as well as for the wonderful clarity of the prose.  


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