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The Centaur in the Garden

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  806 ratings  ·  58 reviews
In The Garden of Delights, a Tunisian restaurant in Sao Paulo, Guedali Tartakovsky celebrates his 38th birthday--that splendid age of newfound maturity and comprehension. It is only now that Guedali is able to revel in memories of glorious times past. Born a centaur--a mythical creature half-horse, half-human--Guedali describes his family's flight from Russia to Brazil at ...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published April 3rd 2003 by University of Wisconsin Press (first published 1980)
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3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  806 ratings  ·  58 reviews

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Debbie Zapata
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019sundaze
I first read this book many years ago, and this time through I thought I would surely be better able to fully grasp any symbolism, not just read for the story. I am not sure I was able to manage that, though. The memoir of a Brazilian Jewish centaur was just so fascinating, imaginative and sensual that even though at times I felt The Meaning Of It All was right under my nose, I know I still never quite 'got' it.

Our story begins at a party in a restaurant, when we meet our narrator Guedali celeb
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a book! Impressed by Max And The Cats A Novel, I decided to read another, a little more substantial novel by this author. And this is really a great book - about a Jewish centaur and a centauress, yet realistic as few other books. I guess that's why they call it magical realism. Written from the Guedali's (the centaur's) perspective, this is a very touching book and one gets to go through his moods and emotions with him, but also turns angry towards some of the things he does. But in t ...more
May 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book--inventive, unique, poignant. But most distinctive is the first-person narrative voice. Pulled me right in, always warm and believable, the political/social/religious themes lightly inserted into the narrative. Must read more by Scliar.

And very interested to learn of the controversy with Martel's LIfe of Pi! How do writers get their ideas? Well, sometimes from each other. But if they do, they damn well should give full and flowing credit as well!!
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Moacyr Scliar’s novel, The Centaur in the Garden, ends much as it begins, with a restless Guedali Tartakovsky wishing for freedom. Guedali’s perception of freedom takes shape in the form of a centaur. The centaur is a mythical being with the upper body of a human, and the lower body of a horse. In its form, the centaur is a mix between man and beast. A centaur possesses a man’s capacity for intellect and reason, as well as the animal’s instinct and physicality. In the centaur, Guedali sees his ...more
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
While reading "The Centaur in the Garden," I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at times. The story's conflicting emotional effect was unsettling but it's also, in part, what made this a brilliant and thought-provoking work. This tale of a Jewish boy born a centaur on his family's farm in Brazil was the archetypal story of the hero's journey a la Campbell's monomyth, but that in no way made it predictable. Quite the contrary, I was surprised every step of the way, never knowing what to expect n ...more
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
We first heard of Moacyr Scliar when the NY Times published his obituary. I started with this book, and found it both a challenge and an inspiration.
At face value, it is a bizzare story. A baby is born to a couple, Jews living in South America. The baby is a centaur -- quite a challenge! Scliar is up to the challenge to the author to tell a story that is believable (given the premise) and meaningful.
So the hitch for me in the meaningful part. I'm sure this is a strange and beautiful parable! I h
Martha Toll
This is a fascinating allegory by an author who is very well known in Brazil. He is of eastern European Jewish extraction, and combines Latin American magical realism with the shtetl culture of eastern Europe. The Centaur in the Garden covers everything, from Freud to Marx to the role of the outsider (Jew) in Latin American culture, to mythology. Should be required reading for every college literature student.
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This story surprised me, which is to say I really enjoyed it. The modern day setting of a Centaur coming of age is almost comical, however, how he and the reader come to realize his identity is innocent and very touching.
Jun 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
i read this after reading life of pi, written by yann martel but criticized for being too much like moacyr scliar's book max and the cats. regardless of the comparison, the centaur in the garden is fantastic, especially if you've ever felt different, and haven't we all?
Juanito Olcese
Sep 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to you, I was able to awaken my, at that moment, sleeping passion for reading. You've opened my eyes to the world of letters, fantasies and truths. Thank you Moacyr, you were my first love.
I read this once years ago and loved it. I want to reread it.
Marne Wilson
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's long been my contention that Brazilian fiction is about 40 years ahead of American fiction, and this book seems to prove it. First published in Brazil in 1980, it feels like it could be published in the U.S. right now. This is the story of Guedali, a boy born on the plains of southern Brazil with a centaur's body, and how he makes his way in the world. It's not really about being a centaur, of course, but about being ashamed of the body you were born with and wishing you could change yourse ...more
Alexander Oster
May 13, 2019 rated it liked it
A book I wouldn't have likely picked up myself, but was very happy I did read it.
The strong opening and middle act were slightly let down by the closing chapters.

The childhood of the protagonaist, the nitty gritty of raising a centaur were absolutely hilarious.
Lúcio Humberto
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the very first novels, and books, that I ever read, back in my youth.
Somehow it helped to bring to life the reader I was going to be.
Scliar's one of the greatest brazilian writers of the past century.
Thank you.
May 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: argentina
It's very rare for a book to get 5 stars from me. I'd heard of this author and this book and, getting ready to revisit Argentina, decided to read it. It's the story of a child born to a Russian, Jewish immigrant family; they are living in a rural farming community that was started (in reality) by Baron Hirsh to support Jews fleeing from pograms. However, for most of the immigrants the reality of farming (having come from totally urban lives) was beyond them and they left for the cities. Guedeli, ...more
Magical fiction about a Jewish centaur. Set in Brazil, memoirs from Russia, and ironic humor from our centaur hero.

I was most impressed about how casually the author writes about such an absurd but cleverly allegorical situation. We get to trace the centaur's life from his shame filled childhood, to him joining the circus, and finally to him and his wife becoming a part of the banal Jewish Brazillian upper class. I was really enchanted by the identity issues of the centaur and enjoyed the irony
Nov 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Another just OK book, I think it got lost in translation. Very complicated story Written in the tradition of magic realism, is probably much better in its native Portuguese. I might give this book another try in a few years.
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2003, bc, portuguese
I've really enjoyed reading this fable that takes place in present days Brazil. It's about a man that was born as a "centaure" in a "normal" Brazilian family. After reading this book I am really interested in reading others from this imaginative writer whose name I wasn't even familiar with...
Jul 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Julia by: Portuguese book club in NYC
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 21, 2010 rated it liked it
For some unknown reason, I read this book in German. It was one of my first stabs at magical realism, and I probably would have gotten more out of it if I'd read it in English. I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to my Dad. Never heard what he thought of it.
Jan 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
I've never read a book that talks about penis so much in all my life! This story is entertaining, although the last chapter kind of undercuts the whole thing. It's interesting because it makes you feel defensive about what you've read. The end reminded me of Life of Pi, although it's not the same.
Jun 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
such a great premise, but nothing interesting happens. i wonder how long it will be until the trend of humanizing the supernatural, which was fun to begin with, will run its course
Aug 25, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: pretentious
An odd, odd book. Interesting, with multiple possible truths. I wonder if it would have been better in the original Portuguese.
Mahmoud Awad
Nov 20, 2016 rated it did not like it
Onerous pamphlet about a brazilian jewish transsexual. I read this purely so I could say I did.
Ayala Sela
It was nice, didn't like the end.
Jul 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Darkly humorous or humorously dark? Either way, I was absorbed into this book right away and I kept thinking about it after I was done, which is usually the sign of a good book.
Luong Nguyen
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fascinating story with magnificent details. Typical for the Magic realism.
Jan 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
It's really well-written and uses fantastic realism to talk about living with differences and facing prejudice.
May 19, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I like the author -- no, really, I think he's good. But the book itself is just a mix of gross TMI and craziness. Really not my type of book.
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Moacyr Jaime Scliar (born March 23, 1937) is a Brazilian writer and physician.
Scliar is best known outside Brazil for his 1981 novel Max and the Cats (Max e os Felinos), the story of a young man who flees Berlin after he comes to the attention of the Nazis for having had an affair with a married woman. Making his way to Brazil, his ship sinks, and he finds himself alone in a dinghy with a jaguar w
“Primeiro casa para todos, diziam, depois comida para todos, depois transporte para todos, depois meios de produção para todos. Que as casas devessem ser construídas por empreiteiros privados não lhes importava muito; a verdade haveria de prevalecer no choque dialético entre o individual e o coletivo, entre o egoísmo e o altruísmo, entre o custo das casas e os preços cobrados pelos empreiteiros, entre a boa qualidade apregoada para a argamassa e as fendas que mais cedo ou mais tarde apareceriam nas paredes; fendas enormes, ramificadas em caprichosos desenhos (galhados de cervos, árvores de decisão ou mesmo letras como as que o plano incluía, de acordo com as ideias do socialista francês Louis Blanc, a criação, no setor público da economia, de verdadeiras oficinas sociais auto-administradas em moldes empresariais. O lucro dessas oficinas, em parte seria destinado à assistência médica e à previdência social, e em parte reinvestido. Operários investindo, aí estava a coisa: as armas do capitalismo usadas contra o próprio capitalismo!” 2 likes
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