‘He set up a workshop in the Flores quarter and found a talent for inventing fanciful myths.’

Acclaimed writer and poet Jorge Consiglio presents a universe of seemingly unrelated tales in Southerly. Here, in 1912, we meet a group of immigrants arriving in Buenos Aires, in search of a new life.

Extract from Southerly
By Jorge Consiglio; translated by Cherilyn Elston
Published by Charco Press

In June 1912 a merchant ship was delayed entering Buenos Aires. During the hours they were kept waiting, the passengers – all on deck – gazed ashore in search of clues about what the future held. They saw cranes, silos, a group of freezing people (the temperature was -2°C) and the serrated outline of a tower. Everything else was shrouded in fog. The chaotic disembarkation represented the conclusion of one chapter of their lives. Yet the minds of the new arrivals were already fixed on the next one. They believed that life was just beginning, that they were starting anew. A young man – tall, stocky and redheaded – broke away from the crowd and strode across the port as if he knew where he was going, heading towards the streets of the city centre. His name was Czcibor Zakowicz. He carried a cardboard suitcase and was wearing a duffel coat. In his pocket was a piece of paper with a name and an address on it. A distant relative, the cousin of a cousin, was expecting him and would put him up and feed him. Zakowicz would do the rest. He found work at a cabinetmaker’s and, in a short time, discovered his relationship with wood was not that of a craftsman. He was organised and successful. He set up a workshop in the Flores quarter and found a talent for inventing fanciful myths. He combined work with tradition and sacrifice.

After he turned forty-five, his eyebrow hair began to grow. It became a wild, unkempt thicket that covered the ridge of his brow, curving downwards into his eye sockets until it brushed his eyelids. In the first few years, Czcibor Zakowicz tried to domesticate his brows. He trimmed them every week, more out of embarrassment than vanity. However, it is common knowledge that laziness tends to get the better of even the most determined. Eventually, Zakowicz became resigned to his appearance, and something changed in the look in his eyes.

The same thing happened to one of his grandchildren, when he turned fifty. He inherited his grandfather’s overflowing eyebrows, and suffered similar embarrassment until he in turn conceded defeat. He also inherited his grandfather’s sense of urgency, which had made him ambitious in his career. He was an estate agent. In keeping with family tradition – a romantic absurdity – they called him Anatol, and that is how his name was recorded on his birth certificate. He, a skilful operator, took advantage of the exoticism of his name – not his surname but his first name – and turned it into a brand. It was the perfect combination of something both straightforward and unusual, two decisive factors when it comes to selling properties in fashionable neighbourhoods. Anatol, married to a very light-skinned woman, understands like no other the secret of his era, its fickle essence. His company’s logo, for example, is adapted from a nineteenth-century Danish ex libris with text in the Garamond typeface. The efficacy of maximising artifice, an aesthetics of defiance, of bravado. All coming together as one great, effective masquerade. Nothing is concealed from the client, not even their own stupidity.

Excerpt from the book of short stories also entitled Southerly by Jorge Consilgio (translated by Cherilyn Elston).

Southerly is out now published by Charco Press priced £9.99.

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