Eduardo Halfon

NOVEL | 108 pages | 2017

Eduardo Halfon’s Duelo returns to the universe he has been building for years around the character named Eduardo Halfon—who might or might not be the author—and his family story. This time he centers on his father’s side of the family: Jewish Lebanese migrants who traveled to the US and Guatemala. 

“His name was Solomon. He died when he was five, drowned in Lake Amatitlán. That’s what I was told as a child, in Guatemala: that my father’s eldest brother, my grandparents’ first-born son, he who would have been my uncle Solomon, had drowned in Lake Amatitlán, in an accident, when he was my same age, and that his body was never found (…) I didn’t know any details of the accident, and didn’t dare to ask. No one in the family spoke about Solomon. No one even uttered his name.”

Thus begins the protagonist's search for the truth behind Solomon's death, as well as his family’s decision to bury the incident in silence. A reflection on the quest for identity, misbeliefs that stand for years and silence as a way of mourning but also as a result of guilt, Duelo is an elegant and delicately written novel, lyrical in its simplicity.

Halfon travels to his grandparents’ old house on the shores of Lake Amatitlán, where as a child he used to spend weekends before the family moved to Florida, due to the violent political situation in Guatemala in the early 1980s. From the moment he sets foot in Amatitlán, everything around him triggers a flurry of childhood memories—some tied to his childhood in Guatemala, some from the first years spent in the U.S. In subtle yet masterful brushstrokes, Halfon’s memories slowly come together to uncover deep family secrets: Solomon’s backstory or, perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof, for no one in the family spoke openly of him. And we slowly begin to see the scattered information that Halfon was able to piece together as a child.

Critics hailed Halfon’s previous volumes—The Polish Boxer and Monastery— as “stimulating and inspiring” (The Independent) and “deeply accessible, deeply moving” (Los Angeles Times), and Duelo continues that tradition. Every book by Halfon is an invitation to delve into his other books, and this Russian doll effect makes the experience of reading him all the more enjoyable, while all the while creating an expectation for what is to come. The way he strings the fragmentary scenes together only to reveal the full picture as it progresses, and even how his different works assemble with each other, make up for a very elegant universe by an author—and an oeuvre—that readers will want to return to again and again. 


Duelo is a masterpiece… Halfon is one of the best writers of his generation and probably others, past and future.
— Manuel Hidalgo, El Cultural
Eduardo Halfon has written a very beautiful cantata, a delicate novel, no more than one hundred pages long. Each and every one of them is indispensable.
— Javier Goñi, Babelia, El País
A book that amazes us. Halfon has an admirable knack for short novels. It is fascinating to see how, in such a reduced amount of space there are so many different characters, situations and registers: the atmosphere, the violent reality—from concentration camps to guerrillas—the magic, the fabulation, the closeness of the dialogues and the lyrical intensity.
— J. A. Masoliver Ródenas, La Vanguardia
Halfon has an extraordinary ability to narrate with an overwhelming and irresistible authenticity. As any good writer, he builds his novels on two levels. The realism of the facts and the symbolic value that detaches from them—he has no need to force anything or violate his prose.
— Antonio Garrido, Diario Sur
A curious and fragmented family story, pieces of a puzzle in which there are no commotions or big epiphanies, but there is also there is no room for triviality.
— Juan Marqués, ABC Cultural
A small gem. Goldsmithing of language, precision, color, and the strength of images and memories.
— María Borrás, Qué Leer
Using a misunderstanding or a family silence as a starting point, Eduardo Halfon has built another one of his short and magnetic novels.
— Xavi Ayén, La Vanguardia
As soon as the reader immerses himself in the story, it becomes totally addictive.
— Javier Menéndez, Diario Montañés
A hallucinated atmosphere of magic or phantasmagoria, impregnates these pages where Halfon’s sharp and precise writing, with its measured dose of estrangement, becomes lyrical and forceful at the same time.
— Ignacia F. Garmendia, Diario de Sevilla
Halfon uses his delicate and delightful prose to enlist the reader on a trip a visit to his family ghosts as a necessary exercise of exorcism.
— Diego A. Marín, La Rioja
Duelo is 100 percent Halfon, that is, an exercise in simplicity and a delight for one’s sensitivity.
— Ascensión Rivas, El Cultural
A sublime book. I finished it desperately wishing I were Jewish. The story of Salomon is one of the most beautiful and painful stories I have read in recent times.
— J. E. Ayala Dip
Deep down, what we have here is a horror story that doesn’t differ much from those by Stephen King (the memory of a drowned boy in a lake often visited as a child, abandoned chalets, repressed memories, familiar ghosts that appear in enigmatic shapes, guilts and fears that emerge from water and silence), but that in Halfon’s hands transmit an unease that is so much more existential. In just one hundred pages he is able to move us. A heroic achievement that few authors can accomplish.
— Sergio del Molino, Mercurio

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