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The Polish Boxer

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  954 ratings  ·  160 reviews
The Polish Boxer covers a vast landscape of human experience while enfolding a search for origins: a grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather’s past and the story behind his numbered tattoo; a Serbian classical pianist longs for his forbidden heritage; a Mayan poet is torn between his studies and filial obligations; a striking young Israeli woman seeks answer ...more
Paperback, 188 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Bellevue Literary Press (first published January 2008)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  954 ratings  ·  160 reviews

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Nancy Oakes
I loved this book. Without saying much about the full storylines here (you really have to experience this book yourself), I read this book twice -- the first time through I didn't like the disjointed feel of the book, but then when I got to the ending, something the author said made me think that perhaps I should go back and read it again. The light bulb over my head flashed on after the second read and I realized that what is important in this book is not that there are little stories wrapped u ...more
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2014-reads
D: You're reading about a Polish boxer?
Me: Well, not really . .
D: Then what's it about?
Me: It's sort of about a Guatemalan literature professor, and Sarajevo, and Gypsies, and Auschwitz, and Mark Twain conferences, and what literature is, and a woman who draws pictures of her orgasms, and . . .
D: Do you like it?
Me: I have no idea.
Leslie Reese
Aug 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
The size of this Bellevue Literary Press, first english edition, published in 2012, is 5 inches x 71/2 inches, and just about 1/2 inch thick. It’s so unobtrusive that it fit easily inside my purse. Translated by five collaborators [from Guatemalan Spanish?], the page length comes in under 200 pages.

“Distant,” the first story, kicks off in the first person: a college literature professor (named Eduardo Halfon) opens the school year before a class of students who make him wonder “if this shit was
Dov Zeller
Here is another one of those novels in which the narrator is some fictionalized reflection of the novelist himself. And there are moments in which, just as in certain other similarly crafted books by other male authors, I was frustrated by the self-absorbed unreflective masculinity of the narrator and, I imagine, the novelist himself. I cannot say that I like the Halfon in this book, or that I feel too much tenderness toward the writer himself, or his attitude toward the female people in this bo ...more
Jeanette (GR isn't sending comment notifications)
I must have been cross-eyed when I read the title. I thought this was going to be about a guy who makes shiny coffins. The Box Polisher.
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Read it. It's about you. Really. Best thing I've read in years and years. ...more
Erin Poll - Tanis
Dec 04, 2016 rated it did not like it
This was recommended on a list of must read books and the review just raved about it and the synopsis sounded interesting. Truth is, I really didn't like it. Like, at all. I was so bored and it never engaged me. I was purposefully going through it as fast as I could just so I could finish it so it would end!! Guess it just wasn't for me. ...more
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, translation
despite having written just shy of a dozen works of fiction, eduardo halfon has already received a number of notable accolades (including a guggenheim fellowship and being named as one of the prestigious bogotá 39). the guatemalan-born's first "novel" to be translated into english, the polish boxer (el boxeador polaco), is a contemplative and cultivated effort in autobiographical fiction. neither novel nor short story collection really, halfon's book weaves together loosely connected threads of ...more
Helena Andrzejewska
This book is very difficult to describe. It's not as much about action, as it is about feeling. I am not going to write about the plot, and I'm not sure if it's a book I feel "everyone should read", but it was bittersweet and reading it felt sort of like being the spectator of another person's daydream.

Not what I expected, but I am pleasantly surprised. Beautiful, raw, but a balanced piece of writing that fills you with melancholy and tries to describe the indescribable feeling of being human.
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book in a long time to make me cry. I was reading it in public and couldn't help myself. But it is neither sentimental nor tragic without hope. It made me cry because the details are so perfect, so simple, and all too human. Once again, Bellevue Literary Press strikes gold. You can basically read anything they publish and be guaranteed a gem. ...more
Thomas Hübner
Jul 27, 2015 rated it liked it

No, the tattooed six-digit number visible on the arm of the narrator's grandfather is not his phone number as he tells his grandson - it is his inmate number from Auschwitz.

Eduardo Halfon, the narrator/author of The Polish Boxer is a literature professor at a college in Guatemala that seems to be rather frustrated by his job. Year after year he is teaching students that don't take the slightest interest in literature - but the rare exceptions make up for this
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the Polish Boxer for its flagrant disregard for literary expectations of any kind. Halfon plays and yet is serious. He write about very sombre and serious topics - the Holocaust, discrimination against Gypsies, the many many Serbian wars - but more generally about displacement, physical, psychological, spiritual, metaphysical. And yet he also plays with these serious things - using a character who is so baffled and confused by language barriers and cultural clashes that all of t ...more
Jan 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
literary interconnected short stories, literary in that they are written by and about a guatemalan literature prof named eduardo halfon, as he chronicles his classes, mostly dull, his girlfriend, mostly hot, his meeting a serbian pianist, mostly intriguing, and his grandpa, saved in Auschwitz by a polish boxer's good advice. lots of good details of food and drink, art, landscapes (from central america to belgrade gypsy brothels) family, religion, and memories. this is his first translated to eng ...more
Oct 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
Meandering and self-aggrandizing. There was a moment when I thought, “ah, here is the story.” But I was wrong. There was no story.
I gave this book 4.85 stars at I was provided a reader copy by Bellevue Literary Press.

Review excerpt:

"Halfon’s characters (and it feels weird to call them characters because I assume they are real people) all enchant the reader–Lía, who draws her orgasms; Juan Kalel, a brilliant poet confined by life in a tiny village; his grandfather, who always told his grandchildren that the number tattooed on his arm was his phone number, so he wouldn’t forget it–but the one that st
Howard Cincotta
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The Polish Boxer is either a sloppy pastiche or the future of literature. Is it fiction, memoir, fictionalized autobiography? I suspect Halfon, who is hailed on the cover copy as one of Latin America's hot young writers, doesn't really care. But he is certainly someone to watch. (This is his first book in English.)

Apparently, Polish Boxer is intended as installment in some combination of memoir and family history, with chapters on teaching literature to uninterested students in Guatemala, having
Cooper Renner
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Halfon warns readers at the outset--via a classroom discussion between his narrator and students--that this novel will be bilevel--a surface story and a hidden story. The surface seems straightforward and somewhat plotless, but is very smartly written and keeps the reader's interest. The hidden story?--well, that sort of depends on the reader, eh? I'm still thinking about it. What we have in front of us is a narrator who 'pretends' to be the author himself and his interest in a half-Gypsy pianis ...more
 Sophia B
My second book of Halfon and I am really enjoying it! This was even better than the first I read. They are connected in theme. It is partly biographical but of course it is fiction. I laughed a lot while reading - the characters he writes about - they seem so real - and they might be. I hope more people will read his works. He is american and bilingual but writes in spanish. It is about so much, it is about reality and fiction and how they are linked. The prose is so elegant and the characters s ...more
L.A. Starks
Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As a brief change from thrillers & mysteries I read this "narrative" of short stories. Halfon writes with a light, expert touch and his work has been superbly translated. Readers who like this book would also like Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, a collection of short stories by award-winning author Ben Fountain. ...more
Erika Dreifus
Please see my review for The Jewish Journal, based on a complimentary review copy provided by the publisher. ...more
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michelle by: Jenn
Shelves: favorites
I really loved this book more than I thought I would. Something was just so perfectly simple yet magical about it and I was sad when it was over. I can see myself rereading this book in an attempt at an escape from the mundane. I hope more of his books get translated into English!
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
3/4 through this book, I started wondering how many cigarettes Eduardo had smoked.
WCN Book Club
May 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review by Sam Ruddock - Summer Reads Producer

There is a passage in The Polish Boxer in which the narrator, a Guatemalan literature professor and writer named Eduardo Halfon, tells a musician he has just met about his take on revolutions. I am, he says, ‘fascinated by internal rather than external revolutions…how and why someone is pushed toward a revolution of the spirit, whether it be artistic or social or whatever, strikes me as a far more honest search than all of the spectacle that follows.
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
I felt saddened by my growing dislike as I read through this collection. Most probably, I'd been set up for disappointment by how much I enjoyed the first story, 'Distant', in which the author tells of a gifted and impoverished indigenous student in his literature class at a Guatemalan university, a class mainly comprised of affluent and disinterested children of the elite rulers of that nation. The short story is told in meticulous detail without ornate prose, its precision including anatomical ...more
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I finished this short gem of a book, a dream-like, memoir-ish account, and immediately started re-reading it. THAT'S the sign of a good book. The chapters were as delicious the second time, so rich yet subtle at the same time -- different tastes came through. This is the kind of book that's half a good story and half a life you wish you yourself were living, traveling so adroitly through different countries, speaking different languages, stepping in and out of different cultures. Halfon writes a ...more
Jan 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Halfon uses this novel as a pseudo-autobiography, kind of, and a commentary on teaching and literature and the meaning of stories, and also as an examination of identity and belonging. So, yes, this book coves a lot of ground. I couldn't quite get into this book for a while, Halfon's writing seemed choppy and idiomatic. Translators, five of them, it took for this book. Huh. But by the second chapter things improved and I could focus on the interwoven themes and characters, and what a collection ...more
Ashley Orf
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Masanaka Takashima
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in Japanese translation, borrowing it from a local library. (I'm sorry that I post this here, but I couldn't find any proper space.) The translator's note says the Japanese version is actually a recompilation of short pieces from the authors three different books ---- "The Polish Boxer", "La pirueta" and "Monasterio". The protagonist always having urges to move around makes the whole book so dynamic that I was kept turning pages. One travel shows he is a good literature teacher. ...more
*** #7 of my 2019 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge - An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America ***

I just finished this audiobook and I have no idea what it's about. I think, it's an autobiography of all the 'interesting' people that Eduardo Halfon has met ((view spoiler)). I'm not sure how these different people and short stories were connected... This book was so boring, I simply powered through without absor
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-the-world
I enjoyed the philosophical parts of this book, regarding the ephemeral and transformative nature of literature and music. It is funny at times and heartbreaking at others, and I can't help but roll my eyes at the literati who dissect Mark Twain's writing while missing the point altogether. I would have rated it four stars, but it's one of those stories where all the women the male main character encounters want to have sex with him. Why does this happen so very often? I realize that the 'is it ...more
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Eduardo Halfon was born in 1971 in Guatemala City. He studied Industrial Engineering at North Carolina State University, and later was professor of Literature at Universidad Francisco Marroquín, in Guatemala.
In 2011 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on continuing the story of The Polish Boxer, which is the first of his novels to be published in English, by Bellevue Literary Press in the

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