CREATIVE Andres Neuman translated by Richard Gwyn

NWR Issue 100

New Man, Neuman

Why do the memories hurt so? Do they hurt when returning? Or is it, perhaps, that we are only healed when they return, and we understand that our memories have been hurting all this time? We travel inside them. We are their passengers.


It’s not known for certain whether it was Jacobo himself, or maybe his father, maybe his grandfather. But Jacobo’s surname, my own surname, came about through trickery. It’s possible that in some part of the world, a distant family member still knows the precise facts. I prefer sticking to the version I heard as a child: the one that tells the story of judicious treason and intelligent cowardice.

My paternal great-grandfather Jacobo, or maybe his father, maybe his grandfather, lived in Tsarist Russia. Frequently, young men from a humble background, especially if they were Jews, had to do military service in areas bordering on Siberia, under inhumane conditions. The terror of being recruited was so great, and the likelihood of surviving the two years of train- ing so slight, that many chose to mutilate themselves in order to be exempted. Jacobo, or maybe his father, maybe his grandfather, knew several young men who were missing an ear, a hand or an eye. And they thought themselves lucky because of this.

But my great-grandfather, or maybe my great-great-grandfather, or maybe his father, felt too attached to all his appendages to consider a similar sacrifice. So it was that Jacobo (let’s stick with him: he deserves it) thought up a plan that would allow him to keep his whole body intact without having to enlist in the army. Did he solicit the help of some remote relative, thereby falsifying his true identity? Did it happen through bribing a Russian customs officer so that he could emigrate? Or did it happen – as I have sometimes heard, and which it pleases me to believe – through a certain friend of a friend, who helped him to rob the passport of a German soldier, whose surname was Neuman?

The only sure thing is that with admirable cowardice and an opportune re- baptism, Zeide Jacobo found himself far from the city of Kametz (now in Ukraine), when the First World War broke out. More than far away: in another world. In my own Buenos Aires...

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