Falsificaciones [Falsifications] (1966)
Marco Denevi (1922-98)
Jonah and the Whale
Jonah harassed the whale, insulted it, provoked it, told it that it fed on small fish but was incapable of devouring a man, called it a herring, a little bream and other offensive epithets. Eventually the whale, fed up with finding itself so vilified, or perhaps to shut-up this madman, swallowed Jonah without causing him the least injury. Once inside the belly of the whale, Jonah began running to and fro. He barked wildly, and punched and kicked the walls of the whale’s stomach. Within a few hours the whale, sick with nausea, vomited Jonah onto the bench. Jonah told everyone that he had spent a year inside the whale; he invented heroic adventures, and declared that the whale was afraid of him. Moral: if you are large and powerful like a whale, and some sort of Jonah defies you, don’t devour him, because you will vomit him transformed into a hero.
Marco Denevi turns the well-known parable of Jonah being swallowed by the whale on its head in his book Falsificaciones (in English: Falsifications), inventing a new version and moral for the ancient parable. In some seven dozen similar vignettes in the book --- running from a few lines to a few pages --- Denevi reaches back to mostly familiar scenes from mythology, literature and the Bible, and bends them to his will, creating idiosyncratic but enchanting alternative explanations for stories we assumed we knew and understood.
Falsifications has a similar structure and feel to Denevi’s book The Garden of Delights: Erotic Myths (in Spanish: El Jardín de las Delicias: Mitos Eróticos; find my review here). Whereas in The Garden of Delights Denevi focused on human struggles and whims in romance and loving, with Falsifications he takes on a broader scope, examining all manner of human foibles. Tales of eros of course have there place in these alternative narratives created by Denevi, but so too do stories of prideful vanity, grasping greed and blind hero-worship. In each case Denevi seems to humanize these old stories, introducing behaviors and motivations that make the original versions of the stories seem quaint and idealized.
In a brilliant several pages of imagination, for example, Denevi creates a story based on a famous old painting by Albrecht Dürer called The Horse, Death, and the Devil. Titled The Dog of Dürer, in reference to a hound that accompanies the knight in the painting, Denevi’s tale skewers jingoism and the supposed joy of battle, and lays bare the awful realities of war. He paints, in words, the future that lies before the returning warrior, forever changed from traumatic experiences incomprehensible to the society which awaits him. The story has a bit of the feel of Twain’s The War Prayer, but from the point of view after the fighting has, for that moment in history at least, concluded. I would argue that it represents as powerful an anti-war statement as can be made.
As with The Garden of Delights, I have unfortunately not found that there exists an English translation of Falsifications. But, if you know a little Spanish, and are willing to work through the book with a Spanish-English dictionary at your side, these stories are well worth the effort.
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