Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, May 20, 2011


THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR by Enrique Anderson Imbert, translated by Isabel Reade (1966)

Enrique Anderson Imbert (1910-2000) was an Argentinian academic who, despite spending more than  half his life in the United States, regularly returned to his beloved homeland to refresh and recharge his batteries.  A noted writer and teacher, he was one of the main founders of the "magic realism" school that made modern Latin American writing such a vital and interesting literature.  Guggenheim fellow, member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Academia Argentina de Letras, the first Victor S. Thomas Professor of Hispanic Literature at Harvard University, Don Imbert was noted for his uniquely dramatic method of teaching.  Imbert was a proud lifelong Socialist, far more Fabian than Marxist.

     He wrote literary criticism, novels, and histories, but was probably better knoown for his "microcuentes", short -- sometimes absurdist -- sketches blending fantasy with magic realism.  Which brings us to The Other Side of the Mirror, a collection of 31 stories/sketches first published in Spanish in 1961 as El Grimorio.  As if to point out how slippery literature can be, these 31 stories actually contain 71 stories, some only a few lines long.  Imbert plays at conventions:  a locked room murder mystery suddenly veers into a supernatural game; the legendary French villain Fantomas becomes an ardent philosopher,  angels are willing to be bribed -- nothing is as it seems and anything can happen (often for no reason at all) in Imbert's world.  To set the tone, The Other Side of the Mirror opens with one of Imbert's most famous stories, Light Pedro, which begins with Pedro almost falling into the sky (reminding me so much of Shel Silverstein's Falling Up).  Somehow, the more fantasic the story, the more solidly grounded in human nature it is:

          I was practicing medicine the, in Humahuaca.  One afternoon they brought me an injured child:  he had fallen down
     a mountain cliff.  When, in order to examine him, I took off his poncho, I saw two wings.  I examined them:  they were
     intact.  the minute the boy could talk, I asked him:
          "Why didn't you fly, son, when you felt yourself falling?"
          "Fly?" he asked.  "Fly, and have people laugh at me?"

     Not all of the sketches in the book worked for me.  Several presented in play formats seemed a bit too pedantic.  Overall, though, the generous use of language and imagery take these very short stories and extend them to almost infinite length, tickling and stimulating the mind.  Recommended.


  1. Pretty cool. I guess the US publishers couldn't handle the notion of publishing it as THE GRIMOIRE. Pity also that Avram Davidson didn't tap the writer for something for his F&SF...

  2. Lord Dunsany wrote a lot of plays that were never meant to be performed, too. It seems to be more a literary game sometimes, and definitely suited for fantasy writers. I can see how it might appeal to this guy especially in the 60s when theater was the quickly catching on as the "new" form of experimental expression.