Laughter and loss

Gregorio Kohon, Ignes Sodre and Leon Kleimberg

Photo: James Royall

Sunday 25th May, 2008 | Posted by Caroline Graty

‘How do you teach a parrot to speak Yiddish?’ asks psychoanalyst Leon Kleimberg, speaking of the maverick, polyglot pet in Gregorio’s Kohon’s novel, Red Parrot, Wooden Leg.

"It’s easier than writing a novel!" responds Kohon. The psychoanalyst and poet’s first work of fiction took 12 years to write, although this doesn’t show in the effortless, relaxed narrative style. A vibrant coming-of-age tale, it follows the adventures of a young Argentinean poet in Rio in the 1960s, the gathering clouds of political repression looming ominously in the background.

The novel is full of colourful characters and comical scenarios, such as the Syrian taxi driver who drives with his headlights out at night in order to help the city save electricity. ‘There is something so important, so magical about humour, says Kohon. ‘It creates an instant intimacy.’

However beneath the humour lies a profound sadness. ‘I realised there were many losses in the novel,’ he says. ‘Fundamental ones like the loss of a father, but also a loss of dreams. In the 60s we thought we could change or achieve things. It’s hard to accept that the enemy is not so easy to defeat.’

The conversation explored the importance of language and narrative in psychoanalysis. ‘What comes through in our clinical case studies is a truthfulness that can’t be found in any other way,’ says Kohon. ‘…the only way to get to the truth is to write the story.’

The link role of the unconscious in the creative process was also discussed. ‘The unconscious guides you rather than you “riding the horse of the unconscious”’, says Kohon. He quotes Stephen King, who, when asked why he wrote answered, ‘Why do you think I have a choice?’

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