The Centaur in the Garden

Written by Moacyr Scliar
Review by Arleigh Johnson

During the early 19th century, a Jewish family escapes the brutality of the Russian Cossacks by immigrating to a small farming community in southern Brazil. To their amazement and horror, their youngest child, Guedali, is born a mythological creature — a centaur. Though he thrives and is accepted into the family, he must be hidden from all outsiders as they search for a cure, improvising Jewish traditions to coincide with his condition along the way.

Though he knows he is loved, Guedali feels the gulf between himself and his family members. As he grows older, the need to find a sense of self overtakes him, and he sets out on a series of adventures that eventually lead him to another of his kind. Together they pursue the seemingly unattainable normalcy that is their view of humankind.

Guedali finally experiences life as his vision of normal, but ultimately discovers that perhaps life as a centaur offered freedoms beyond what a human could experience. Descriptive even in the most personal matters, the storyline and prose nonetheless carry the reader along to a satisfying conclusion. The whimsical ending offers further insight into human – and nonhuman – nature, and allows the ultimate fate of the characters to be pondered.