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The Centaur in the Garden (The Americas Series) Paperback – September 15, 2011

5.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Before his death in 2011, Brazilian-born physician Moacyr Scliar had published more than seventy books and 120 stories. His works have been translated into more than a dozen languages; some have been adapted for film, television, and theater.

Margaret A. Neves has translated the works of Brazilian novelists Jorge Amado, Oswaldo Franca, Antonio Torres, Lygia Fagundes Telles, and others.Ilan Stavans is author of On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language and editor of The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Americas Series
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Texas Tech University Press; New edition edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0896727300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0896727304
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #763,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on April 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
"The Centaur in the Garden" is a superb novel by Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar. The text has been translated from Portuguese into English by Margaret A. Neves. This brilliant fantasy describes the life of Guedali Tartakovsky, who is born to a Russian Jewish family that has emigrated to Brazil. The family is shocked when, at the baby's birth, they discover that he is a centaur: a being who is human from the waist up, but who possesses a horse's four-legged body below.
The novel's hero thus enters the world marked as an outsider. As his life unfolds, we see his quest to educate himself, to embrace his Jewish identity, to experience sex, to find love, and ultimately to determine his place in the world. Along the way are many stunning surprises--for both Guedali and the reader.
"Centaur" seems to me to exemplify the concept of "magical realism." The book deftly blends elements of fantasy, science fiction, and social satire. Scliar explores many types of relationship: between European and Native American, Jew and Gentile, man and woman, parent and child. This is a deeply moving, truly brilliant novel by one of the most extraordinary voices in Latin American literature.
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Format: Paperback
What a book. That's one of those books that keep you turning the pages rapidly, until you get to the end. But then you just have to take another look at the first pages, and before you know it you are in the middle of a second round. The main character tells his story retrospectively, starting from the night a winged horse flew over his parents house at the time of his birth - a Jewish Centaur somewhere in Brazil. His parents are terrified at first, but afterwards he is grown as a regular... well, centaur. It's no use even trying to tell anything of this strange, fascinating book. Two things, however, are certain: this is a book that you will be thinking about for a long, long time, and this is NOT a children's book. Read it. If I can't convince you... well, imagine yourself living your life without knowing that "One hundred years of solitude" existed. What a loss.
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This book written by Moacyr Scliar can be hard to find. I happened to come across it by accident when browsing books at the bookstore. The moderately popular book, "Max and the Cats", attracted me but it appeared too short for me. I wanted something more substantial to read. So, I searched for other books and this one was the other novel available. All other novels by Scliar are out-of-print. You can however get his other books probably through another library if your library does not own it.
It would be unfair to go beyond the description of the novel. So, I will start with the main character, Guedali Tartakowsky, who is a centaur born into a normal Jewish family. Amazingly, his family tries everything so that he fits into their small community. There are clashes with other people as Guedali wants to escape the safety of his family to meet others. It may seem a little mystical and ridiculous. But, Guedali is not so unlike everyone else who must find himself by living on his own. Many of the qualities in Guedali shows how much more human than us. He may have hooves but his emotions and longing to be accepted and thoughts about growing up normal.
Our reaction to deformities resonates strongly in today's society. If we could change things like remove a large mold, then would it significantly change our life for the better? In most cases, the answer is yes and who knows if the mold was malignant. But, what if it is not so bad and everyone around doesn't mind it. Would you risk changing it for other people who feel uncomfortable? That may be a complete simplification of Guedali's problem but you see where I am going...
So many issues are addressed about knowing yourself. What makes you happy? How do you deal with matters of your identity as a Jew?
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Format: Paperback
This fable (or is it a true story) of a man who is born with the body of a horse is more about the man becoming who he is that what he thought he was. After spending most of his life running away (pun intended) from being different, he becomes comfortable with that difference. This is really a story of what it's like to be an outsider trying to fit in, and in many ways, what it means to be different even among the outsiders.

A Jewish Centaur, what could be more of an outsider. Even though he tries to be a Jew (he is circumcised and bar mitvah-ed); but because he has four hooves (duh!) he is ashamed of what he is. Running away from home and joining the circus and becoming a star is one way of using his 'uniqueness'. But after a while he has to leave because he tries to be like everyone else, and that can't be allowed. He meets a female centaur and they develop a sympathetic relationship. Who else but another centaur can understand what they are going through?

But because he is jewish and she isn't (he wants her to convert) they can't have a full relationship. Face it, even among the outsiders, you have to conform to be accepted. After they have operations to make them bipedal, they still are different because they still have one set of hooves which they hide from the world. Eventually they move into a gated community where they and their friends create their own world. But he is not happy, he wants to be a centaur again. In the end he realizes that he is the same person on the inside and that the rest is just cosmetic.

The power of this story, and the translation is done beautifully, is the 'normalness' the Skleer brings to life. (I mean except for the centaur thing.) A marvelous story of the power of love and the ability of all people and things to find their place in the world if they only look inside themselves.

Zeb Kantrowitz
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