THE SON OF BLACK THURSDAY BY ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, TRANSLATED BY MEGAN MCDOWELL
Those familiar with the surreal landscapes and sheer unpredictability of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films will find that The Son of Black Thursday, a retelling of his childhood in Chile, is a remarkably cinematic novel. In this new translation by Megan McDowell, readers of English are gifted with a further look into the boundless imagination of the artist.
The story begins in the bleak, mining town of Tocopilla in the 1930s and is populated by an eccentric cast: Sara Felicidad, his giantess mother who doesn’t speak but sings in arias; Raquel Lea, his twin sister who recites verses as a baby and eventually grows fat from all of the poetry inside her. There’s also the Rabbi, a ghost who has accompanied the family for generations. “Without him,” Jodorowsky writes in his introduction, “I never could have put down roots in this world that is made, to a large extent, of aggression.” This is precisely the type of world in which Alejandro’s parents find themselves. The country’s government headed by Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, and Jaime, Alejandro’s father, becomes convinced he must murder the tyrant. He sets off on the mission, leaving his family behind. Without her husband, Sara Felicidad shrinks into herself, hides her “long, sensual hair [in] a severe bun,” and opens a litany of businesses in Santiago. While Raquel Lea is sent away, young Alejandro grows up with his mother in shops like “The Eighth Chakra” and “The Apple of Harmony,” absorbing the wild stories around him. Jodorowsky seems to use this novel to repurpose some of the pain from childhood. He rewrites his parents—who he has referred to as “distant” and “oppressive”—into dream-like characters and he mythologizes every event, blurring the line between what is real and imaginary. As in his cinema, the audience of The Son of Black Thursday will gladly suspend their disbelief to witness the captivating and delightfully off-kilter scenes of Jodorowsky’s early years.
—Review by Anna Vilner