The Centaur in the Garden
Margaret A. Neves, Translator
(Texas Tech University)When Guedali comes forth from the womb, he appears to have a superabundance of legs. Four to be exact. From the waist up, he's "a robust, pink baby, crying and moving its little hands." From there down, he's all horsie.
His father sobs. The midwife admits she has never seen anything like this before. Mother goes dumb --- it's been a hard pregnancy; and now this beast.
And there are the practical problems. What kind of bed should we make for a kid (your kid) with a long tail? (The midwife finds a big crate, lines with blankets). How to feed him? (Milk mixed with hay). And the mohel coming in to do the ritual circumcision? The family tells him they are Jewish but, he says, "I have no obligation to circumcise horses!") Guedali is quite a challenge, being a centaur and all.
What will the neighbors think? Father says the boy must be hidden away. Guedali becomes "painfully aware of my shanks, my hooves." When strangers visit, "I am hidden in the cellar or the barn ... I am obliged to think of something called horseshoes. I become conscious of my thick, beautiful tail." Most of all, he loves galloping through the fields, but always well out of sight of neighbors and strangers.
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It is no easy task to put together a novel with a centaur for protagonist, but Scliar pulls it off because the devil is in the details. During Guedali's private bar mitzvah, the ritual shawl is placed over his shoulders, "the fringe of the talit falling over my haunches and hindquarters, one front hoof pawing the ground --- as it always did when I was nervous." The sacred wine? Oy, gevalt. He knocks it over with his beautiful tail. "It's nothing, my mother quickly said."
but it was something, something very large. It was my tail, my hooves; it was an animal that was there.
"Oh mama. Oh papa. I so much want to be a regular person, to be normal," he tells them. Finally, when he runs away to the south he ends up --- where else? --- in a circus. He's a hit, standing there in front of the crowds, declaiming passionately. It's the best place for him, and he has told the owner --- who looks like Greta Garbo --- that his brother (a deaf-mute, his face "is all burned") is hidden back there behind. "It is well-made, your costume," she says. It is "authentic horsehide," he tells her. It works. until she tries to bed him.
Then he has to run away again. Like the wind.
We can call this a fable, and it is a nicely constructed one, so much so that we can go along with it when Guedali happens across another centaur --- or rather, a centauress, named Martita --- there in Rio Grande do Sul. They are, obviously, meant for each other, and they retire to a convenient near-by castle, owned by a rich widow, who loves them, and doesn't mind two horse-children taking care of her, and who conveniently dies, leaving them all her worldly goods.
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You should consider getting The Centaur in the Garden, because I am not going to tell you anything more about it ... not the trips to Morocco, the operations, the meeting with a sphinx named Lolah. We buy into it all, because it's a delicious metaphor for all of us, always hiding something from the world ... what would your friends say if they knew you had hooves and a tail? (Even so, Guedali's friends there in Rio are quite reassuring: one said that he was born with scales, another had a tiny monkey tail.)
Hiding, always hiding, the two centaurs want nothing but to be loved and respected, treated like everyone else. It works, the fable does, that at the very end there, in the very last chapter, when author Scliar slips a bit ... says that Guedali may have been delusional.
We'll have none of it. Our centaur is too charming just like he is, especially when he is going full bore all four legs powering through the countryside, racing next to his beloved other half, Martita, two centaurs in love.--- Rebecca Marks, MA