The first time I opened the pages of Moacyr Scliar’s The Centaur in the Garden, I was already skeptical about both life and literature. I had become immune to magic realism, tired of obvious multicultural lessons that burdened rather than enriched stories, and just plain sick of the representation of “otherness" as an optical problem: merely the way others saw us, with redemption always possible when we looked inside and saw we were exactly the same.
But what if we weren’t the same? And what if we found our Zen precisely in what made us different?
Those are some of the central questions in Scliar's wonderful novel, The Centaur in the Garden. The story takes place in provincial Brazil, on a farming colony established by a Jewish philanthropist. That part isn’t fiction: at least two different European barons tried to relocate Jews persecuted in the Old World to the new one, in the hope of creating a Zion in the Americas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In Scliar’s tale, one of those newly arrived families is further dislocated when their youngest son, Guedali, is born a centaur.