Juan Dahlmann works in a library in Buenos Aires. Like many Argentines, he is of mixed heritage. His paternal grandfather was a German minister who emigrated to Argentina in 1871. His maternal grandfather was a famous Argentine military man who suffered a violent death at the hands of Indians on the frontier. In spite of Dahlmann’s bookish lifestyle, he prefers to think of himself as more closely linked to his military-hero grandfather, “his ancestor of romantic death.” Because of this, Dahlmann keeps some souvenirs that remind him of the more heroic side of his heritage. One of these is a run-down ranch in the South that belonged to his mother’s family. Dahlmann is an absentee landowner, however, as his work at the library keeps him in the city.
Dahlmann’s life changes dramatically on a February evening in 1939. Eager to examine a rare edition of Alf layla walayla (fifteenth century; The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1706-1708), which he has just obtained, Dahlmann elects not to wait for the elevator in his apartment building but instead rushes up the dark stairs, where he accidentally runs into the edge of an open door. The injury to his head is such that he is forced to spend several feverish days at home in bed. When he does not improve, he is taken to a sanatorium, where he endures a battery of neurological tests. Sometime later, the doctors reveal to him that “he had been on the point of death from septicemia.”...
(The entire section is 580 words.)