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Federico Andahazi

 

REVISTA LA NACIÓN, December 11, 2005

Who is Andahazi?

By Leila Guerriero / Photo: Daniel Pessah

Who is the man hidden behind one of the Argentina’s best sellers authors in the world and to whom its new book, City of heretics, installed again in the center of the scene?

 

The first time he saw him, the man was stopped in the corner of Montevideo and Corrientes, and just then Federico Andahazi felt a sting in the stomach and a rare premonition.

- That face looks familiar; then, I asked to my girlfriend: “Who is that guy?”. And she said to me: “He is your dad, Federico, is your father, the one in the photo of the book”.

  Federico Andahazi

So, one day of 1981, 18 years after his birth, Federico Andahazi was for the first time with Bela Andahazi, one Hungarian guy that was also his father and of whom he knew few little things: that he was a psychoanalyst and that he had written a poem book, in whose flap there was a photo: the only one of his father Federico Andahazi had seen in his life.
- I approached to him and said: “Sorry, are you Bela?". And he said: "Yes". “Ah, I’ m Federico”. He said: “Sorry, what Federico? "."Your… your son”. “He give me a big hug and then gave me his card. The first meeting with my father was in his psychoanalyst's office. And there he told me I had two half brothers, Pablo and Laura … though I … already knew that …

The memory chokes on suddenly like a stumble.

- Sorry. I’ll get some water.

City of heretics, the book Andahazi has just published by Planeta, reached the market at the same time Bela Andahazi, the man who was his father, died.

- The publishing machinery could not be stopped. So, I’m doing my best.
The publishing machinery of the Argentine best selling author of his generation in the country and in the world - till now, three million copies and translations in thirty languages- is not a common one: it is, indeed, a full speed train against a perspective of hope and expectations. So in between the publicity of his book, whose story is situated in 1300 and whose main character is a perverse father who makes his daughter his main enemy and subjects the man she loves under the most devastating tortures, Andahazi is taking Bela’s death day by day, but he doesn’t stop.

He was born in a neighborhood unsuitable for children: the corner of Corrientes and Callao, in 1963. A hard zone for an only child out of father and with a mother, Juana, who worked in a bank, and loving but older grandparents - Margarita and Samuel Merlin, arrived from Russia after the war- who welcomed their grandson each afternoon as soon as he finished school.

My parents had met at a meeting, but they brooked up when I was only a boy. I didn’t have an unhappy childhood, but I remember with a little of sorrow my boredom. I left school and had to spend all afternoon long at my grandparent’s. I loved them, but they were very old. All I could do was to be there watching TV, without watching indeed. And at one particular moment I sat down and began listening to the elevator: my mother was about to arrive. I remember... that kiss with her cold face from the out world... What happiness.

Thank to his grandfather Samuel Merlin, Andahazi believed he was a descendant of the famous magician. Thank to his other grandfather, Bela Andahazi - ex- Hungarian ambassador in Turkey who arrived at Argentina with his wife and his 8 years old son, after the war– he thought that by his veins flowed very blue blood.

- But instead of being that way, the father of my father was a painter and Samuel Merlin was the founder of several independent editorials. He was related with political literature, to such an extent that in 1976 he put all the books from his library in bags, and then took them and threw them into a wasteland. From the balcony of his house, I could see how he finally burned the books. Samuel Merlin lived just a few years more after that.
In the youth, many things changed. From being an adorable student during the first years at school he became an uncontrollable one. Then he became hippie and changed school a lot of times until he decided that studies and sports, both of which he practiced with delight, were not for him.

-I left school and began working in a video club. I had to check the films with my hands, but as I’m very clumsy, I brooked them.

He was an assistant in a travel agency, until he found the best job of his life: he became “dremelero”.

- I engraved the digits of the number plates in the glasses of the cars with a little device in whose end was a sort of diamond called “dremel”. I worked with a friend in an underground parking of Recoleta. We could earn a lot of money but we didn’t like the work. Not to mention the place we worked.

- Why?

- Because the parking was near the cemetery and we were too close to the dead. I could not think in another thing.

- Seriously it disturbed you that way?

- Yes. I am a very susceptible person.

A curious thing if we take into account that this susceptible person is finishing a book whose story includes a bloodthirsty abortion and a “via-crucis” with lances and nails, and whose first scene is the violation of a boy by a priest.

Old at seventeen

Federico Andahazi never felt as old as when he was in between his 17 and his 27 years old. A photo card of that time shows a man with moustaches curved upwards, tense hair, the glance sunk by the weight of responsibility. When he was 16, he began a relationship with Monica, a girl of 17 he had met in Villa Gesell. They rented a house in Boedo to live together, feeling both of them that was the natural thing to do.

- It was a very small house, gray, very sad. We were together ten years. When I was 18 I met my father and began my studies of psychology in the UBA. I was a very good student and, but that time, I had already begun writing. I used to show what I wrote to one of my friends. He was very strict: everything I wrote seemed horrible to him. But one day I transcribed two or three pages of “The autumn of the Patriarch” and then I said “I wrote this”. And he said me: “It is awful, dreadful”. It’s for this reason that I think you must listen to the critic because, sometimes, when the critic is too rough, you could think: I’m in the right road.

- It’s easy to be deceived by that way of thinking: if the critic is rough with me, I’m good. In fact, you don’t apply the inverse argument.

- No, of course not. But it seems to me that many of these critics could perfectly fall in the trap. I graduated and worked as a psychoanalyst for two years and then I realized that it was not for me. I never was a good psychoanalyst. Plus I didn’t notice any patient’s progress, I had the same old feeling of being breaking films with my hands, all the time. So, I became a dremelero again.

Andahazi`s life seems to be organized in strange cycles that lasted, approximately, between seven and ten years. He was first an obedient child and then an evil one, and then he was a loving boyfriend. He was first an awful student at high School and then a shining one at the university, he was a dremelero and at last, he became a writer.

- I was never good for work. I believe I’m a writer to avoid working.

- To write is not to work?

- In Occidental culture, we have a holy idea of work. It is always related with suffering. And to tell you the truth for me writing is a pleasure. My decision to become a writer was a bet: to write and to publish. I have two novels written before The anatomist, both of which, although I liked them, I knew they were not going to be published. I also knew I have to write a novel with enough power to hit the publisher. And that novel was The anatomist. It took me three years to write it, but I knew it was going to be published. When I finished it, I said: “Well, now I have to take it to publishing houses; let us begin by alphabetic order ". And I went to one publishing house that begins with “A". I met the publisher at the door and said to him: "I have just finished writing this”. Then the guy told me a phrase, very mysterious to me: "We don’t publish unpublished authors". So, I took my novel and went to another publishing house and another one, and finally I decided to take part in contests. To my surprise… I won all of them.

He won all of them. He won all of them, in addition, unanimously. He won the Santo Tomás de Aquino, Desde la gente and the Buenos Aires joven contests. Then, he did something incorrect (made something wrong): he sent The anatomist to two contests at the same time: Planeta Prize and the one given by the Fortabat Foundation. One day of 1997, he received a phone call from Planeta to announce him, he was one of the finalists of the its prize, and the next day he received another phone call, this time from the Fortabat Foundation, he had also won that prize: Maria Angelica Bosco, Raul Castagnino, Jose Maria Castiñeira de Dios, Maria Granata and Eduardo Gudiño Kieffer were the members of the jury who chose his novel as the winner unanimously. So, Andahazi refused to continue participating in the Planeta Prize but just then, hours later, he found out that Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat was refused to award an immoral work. Although the jury held a joint and noble attitude (Maria Granata affirmed: "it was a prize we all gave to a good book and to an original idea. The sin would have been not to award it”), the dremelero was forced to take legal actions to make the Foundation pay him the check they owed him. They paid, but without the expected prize giving celebration. At last, Planeta published The anatomist which has already sold 120,000 copies only in Argentina and has been translated into thirty languages. The mass media photographed and interviewed the new writer of the scandal over and over again. The man from nowhere that made one of the most powerful women of the country angry was, in addition, a gothic mixture of magician and Drácula: fit shirts, ponytail, earring, beard, muscles worked in a gym, a liking for the rock and for old motorcycles.

- In fact, my liking for the motos began in a not very genuine way, fifteen years ago. I had an affaire with a married girl who lived in La Plata. She used to say to her husband, that she was going out for shopping and instead of that, she came to Buenos Aires in her moped. Once, she left it to me for a week, was during those days that I discovered the freedom of moving where I wanted in the city. So I changed my Gibson guitar for a Douglas 1947, and since then I never stopped buying motos, taking them into pieces and making them run.

The local literary world gave a jump of scare faced to some of the characteristics, literary tastes and declarations of the author. If with the publication of The anatomist split up the opinions about the quality - or its absence - of the novel, the one that followed it (The merciful women, which is situated in 1700, and about the triplets Legrand) finished to remove Andahazi from that golden circle in which certain names of national Literature shine. The anatomist was for Andahazi the same as the street law for Mickey Rourke: a sudden reputation, followed by a questioned step, with books like The merciful women, The prince, Flamenco’s secret and the Drifting in the shadow. But he says – he has always said - it doesn’t matter.

- It makes me laugh when I read some writers saying they don’t know me, when, in fact, they have awarded me. In any case, the one who change is not me.

-Would you like to belong to this kind of circles?

- No, they bore me. I think I wouldn’t know what to say.

- But you don’t really know if you will be bored because you don’t know those circles from the inside.

- I know many members of those groups. Many of them are funny when they are alone.
- Didn’t you aspire to the recognition of that people?

- I have the recognition of many people. When they are alone with me, the ones who hate me are always the others.

To be and to seem?

Except for the absence of glasses, that he used to have, his aspect has not changed from 1997: Renaissance beard, gel in his hair, earring, and a healthful body. A decorated aspect that many people find objectionable. The opposite cliché of the writer with pipe, but another cliché: hedonistic, lover of the women, the speed, the night and the danger.

- I do not play a writer. I am a writer. My work is there to speak for itself. They say: “He doesn’t seem to be a writer”. And how is a writer supposed to be? In other countries, the writers have piercing. Physical aspect matters me less than to those with studied beards and studied pipes and studied eyeglasses. I try not to have belly. I know some day I will have one, but meanwhile I’ll tray to avoid it…

City of heretics, the novel that Planeta has just published, is showed over the backcloth of the forbidden love between Christine and Aurelio (two characters who discover sex but then they enter individual religious convents and finally join to found a free community on Villaviciosa, mastered by a very sui generis version of "love and do what you want") the story of Christine’s father, Duke Geoffroy de Charny, who decides to develop a false relic– The Holy Shroud - to raise a church and to manage it in his own benefit. Christine and Aurelio´s love is, for many reasons, an obstacle for the Duke, who makes an enemy of his daughter, forces her to have a bloody abortion, and then he organizes to her lover a crucifixion with high disease. Andahazi says he didn’t write this book to find scandal and affirms that his inspiration nothing had to do with looking for a chance to match in a market eager of novels such as the successful Da Vinci Code, of Dan Brown -which put into doubt the official version of The Holy Grail, among other things – but for a far and old one inspiration.

- In 1998, I was in a friend’s house in France, and at that dinner there was a priest who had read The anatomist. He showed me a letter from XIV Century in which the archbishop of Troyes denounced the fraud of the Holy Shroud; He said it was a false relic. I returned to Buenos Aires with twenty written pages. And that was all. Some time ago, putting my papers in order, I found those notes. Then, I began to ask myself about the fascination that the holy shroud exerts in people.
Andahazi lives in an old, great house but without luxuries, with his wife, a plastic artist, and his three years old daughter, Vera. The house has everything that he couldn’t have when he was a boy: a green backyard, a swimming pool, place to run, to sunbathe, and to exercise.

- My daughter made me a different person of me. I gave up smoking, because I ´m asthmatic. I want my baby to have a father for a long time.

- And you discover in yourself, your father characteristics?

- Many of them.

He catches a picture with a photo of a white beard man, white hair, gray suit, a very severe expression in his face, pipe: the psychoanalyst cliché.

- He smoked three or four packets of cigarettes every day. And after that, he smoked in pipe and he swallowed the smoke. Each one of us is the creator of his own life and of his own death. He was an enemy of classic medicine, and I could say he died in his law. I recognize myself in some way he had, of being always against pragmatic things. Anything related to practical nature is in charge of my wife, because I can’t handle them. If she doesn’t eat, me neither. I can’t make a bank balance or pay taxes by myself. With the money I’m like the boxers: It’s only thanks to my woman that I’m not scraping the pockets looking for a penny.

- Where was the poem booklet written by your dad?

- In my grandfathers library. At Merlin’s. But to my father… the truth is that I never called him dad.
- And how you called him?

- Bela. We were like… two nice colleagues.


Source: REVISTA LA NACIÓN



 
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