Leandro Sarmatz’s “The Count” (“O Conde”; tr. from the Portuguese by Peter Bush) is the ninth story in Granta 121: The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists. For an overview of the issue and links to my reviews of its other stories, please click here.
This relatively short piece (only five pages) centers around Emil Fleischer, a Yiddish actor from Czernowitz, before and after World War II. He is known as the Count due to his specialty performance: Count Dracula. When the story begins, he has just been released from a concentration camp in Poland. We are told that he survived the experience, at least in part, because he fed on a dream of going to America, an example of logotherapy, Viktor Frankl’s psychotherapeutic method.
Indeed, the Count, though “he suffered privations nobody can ever anticipate,” recognizes that he’s passed over that terrible time better off than most: “Besides, he seemed to have an iron constitution. There was a touch of magic in surviving all that.” Prior to being placed in the concentration camp, he survived a couple of certain-death situations because of his acting skills and his knowledge of German. And now, released, things seem to be moving in the right direction. He’s had a few comfortable nights, finally, with plenty to eat, and he’s decided to visit Czernowitz one last time — “before it was swallowed up by the death machine” — and then head to America to realize the dream that kept him alive.
It’s an interesting story about being caught up in the trappings of history and about the ironies of fate. In fact, the irony is so pronounced it might feel a bit cheap. In other words, if you don’t like O’Henry, this story may not do much for you. I’m afraid it didn’t do much for me.