“Requiem” by Slavko Zupcic

*Short Story Monday (belatedly, today) is a weekly feature run by The Book Mine Set*

(Today’s short fiction is from the Words without Borders September 2011 issue:  Homage)

The introduction to the Homage issue begins with:

“Amateurs borrow, professionals steal, and this month we’re accessories after the fact, presenting a collection of pieces based on, alluding to, and just plain pinched from the work of others.  Our contributors target writers from a variety of countries and eras to mimic and riff on, and subvert plots, characters, and the authors themselves.”

Felipe, the narrator of Requiem, one of the short stories in Homage, declares:

“I was the one who killed Borges.”

He’d gone to a bookstore owned by a family friend, bought a book of poems by the Catalan writer, Pere Gimferrer and, on a whim, stolen a two-volume collection of Jorge Luis Borges’ Complete Poetry. He need not have pilfered the book for he comes from a well-to-do family and his father keeps an account at the store.  He spends the night reading the collection.  The next morning the radio announces the death of the Argentine author.

Felipe is convinced that his reading of the collection led to the death of Borges.  He decides to test the theory and spends the next night reading Gimferrer.  However, the  announcement of the poet’s demise never comes.  Tracing his actions, he arrives at the conclusion that  “the lethal weapon must not simply be my reading . . . perhaps it could be my reading a book which I had stolen”.  To test this new hypothesis, he steals a book of poetry by Benjamin Castro, a local poet who is also a dentist.  He reads the book and viola, the radio brings news of the poet’s death.  Between the accidental death of Borges and the intentional murder of Castro, our young narrator has become a killer.  As is the case with some serial killers, he decides to wait for a while before killing again. He congratulates himself when, over an eight-year period, he refrains from killing colleagues and professors who insulted him.

“What happened, then? If I was so well-controlled, for what obscure reason am I writing these lines now, confessing such old transgressions, and preparing to list some even more recent. Simply because I could not avoid recidivism. Primarily it was because, after such a long time without exercising my power, I came to believe the whole thing was a fabrication, one of those memories that blurs into fiction, a scene from a poorly directed movie, the fragment of a story—the mental reenactment of one of Maigret’s adventures.”

Then he embarks on a spree, doing away with, among others,  Bioy Casares, José Ángel Valente, Arturo Úslar Pietri and Camilo José Cela.  To benefit from his crimes, he publishes an essay on the author just before murdering him.  The head of his department, noting the repeated coincidentally pairing of publication and death of author calls him a “jinx”.   But then Felipe publishes his own book, a collection of critical essays.  The rest is how the story, Requiem, ends…

I often think, quite presumptuously,  that I can tell when a writer is having fun and enjoying their craft.  Certainly, I hope that Zupcic enjoyed writing this story as much I delighted in its reading.  The premise is quite absurd.  But when a fantastic tale is well-told, we suspend our disbelief. This story is, after all, the chronicle of a serial killer.  But the context is so delightfully wicked, especially for us bookish types. I wanted it to go on so I could learn of more Spanish-language writers.  Or, I thought,  he could have started his spree before June 14, 1986, which is date of Borges’ death. Finally, what are we to think of 70s born Slakvo Zupcic who kills off the writers of his literary tradition? Requiem is a short story that abounds in giving and is highly recommended.

The translation by Jeremy Osner is really, really good.

Please do read Words without Borders.  The folks there are working hard at promoting translated fiction.

From Words without Borders:

Slavko Zupcic, a psychiatrist, occupational physician, and writer, was born in Valencia, Venezuela, in 1970. He has published three collections of stories—Dragi Sol (Dragi Sun), 1989; Vinko Spolovtiva, ¿quién te mató? (Vinko Spolovtiva, Who Killed You?), 1990; and 583104: Pizzas Pizzas Pizzas, 1995—the novel for children Giuliana Labolita: el caso de Pepe Toledo (Giuliana Labolita: The Case of Pepe Toledo), 2006; and Tres novelas (Three Novels), 2006. He lives in Valencia, Spain. “Réquiem” belongs to the as-yet unpublished collection Médicos taxistas.

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6 comments

  1. Sounds like a fascinating read. I like the line that reads, “I was the one who killed Borges.” That says alot in one sentence. I also enjoy reading short stories, makes me feel like I’m reading faster through my TBR list.

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  2. Wow, what a premise! Borges is one of my favourite writers so killing him certainly got my attention. I love it when a writer manages to take a whacky idea like this and really make it seem true.

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