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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Seconds Out

Martín Kohan

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To purchase Seconds Out

Title: Seconds Out
Author: Martín Kohan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 250 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Seconds Out - US
Segundos afuera - US
Seconds Out - UK
Seconds Out - Canada
Seconds Out - India
Dix-sept secondes hors du ring - France
Sekundenlang - Deutschland
Fuori i secondi - Italia
  • Spanish title: Segundos afuera
  • Translated by Nick Caistor

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing interlinked variations on themes, but ultimately piles it on too thick

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 16/5/2007 Florian Borchmeyer
Irish Examiner . 19/2/2011 Michael Moynihan
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 19/7/2007 Georg Sütterlin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Wie sehr der Roman bei alledem eine große Geschwindigkeit und Spannung behält, ist eine bewundernswerte Leistung seines Autors, ebenso wie die Tatsache, dass trotz der Verschachtelung von verschiedensten erzählerischen Ebenen, die gleichzeitig zur Jahrhundertwende, in den Zwanzigern, den Siebzigern, den Neunzigern und in der Jetztzeit spielen, eine kohärente Erzählung erhalten bleibt. Dennoch ist die Lektüre eine konzentrations- und geduldintensive Herausforderung" - Florian Borchmeyer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "However, there’s a flatness to the prose style that does no favours to the different registers that Kohan has to try and juggle (.....) I applaud the ambition but Kohan and his publishers have just gone a little too far into left field." - Michael Moynihan, Irish Examiner

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Seconds Out is a multi-layered novel covering well over half a century. It is divided into seventeen chapters, and a centerpiece of each is a single second of the seventeen for which boxer Jack Dempsey was knocked out of the ring in the first round of his classic fight against Luis Angel Firpo at the New York Polo Grounds in 1923 (immortalized in George Bellows' painting). That title fight is one that, fifty years later, is the story one journalist, Verani, revisits for a planned fiftieth-anniversary issue of a local Patagonian newspaper; his colleague Ledesma wants to write about a concert in Buenos Aires given by the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted by Richard Strauss, at almost the same time. But it's a small newspaper item from 1923 that also becomes an obsession, a mysterious death -- suicide ? murder ? -- in a Buenos Aires hotel, the victim's name never mentioned, and with no additional information provided in the local paper in the days that followed.
       The narrative switches back and forth between the Dempsey-Firpo fight in 1923, the preparations for the fiftieth anniversary issue of the newspaper in 1973, as well as later events, in the 1980s and then 1990; a first-person narrator, who worked on the paper with Verani and Ledesma also crops up. The sections from 1923 describe the agonizing seventeen seconds from Dempsey's perspective, but there are also sections focusing on two other figures in and around the ring, giving their perspectives: the referee, the failed boxer Jack 'Slowest' Gallagher (whose slow count -- Dempsey should have only gotten ten seconds to get back in the fight -- prevented Firpo from winning the title), and a ringside photographer, Donald Mitchell; in the process, Kohan relates both their backstories too. In the sections featuring Verani and Ledesma, much of the discussion is about Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler and their complicated relationship -- which also included their boosting one another's careers (as Strauss also performed Mahler in Buenos Aires). And then there's the puzzling death, the pieces of which are slowly put together as well.
       From time practically at a standstill -- Dempsey flying through the air, frame by frame; the photographer trying to capture the instants -- to connections made over vast distances -- such as New York and Buenos Aires -- and periods -- the fifty years between 1923 and 1973, and then later -- Seconds Out layers its story in interesting and not always obvious ways. From the drawn-out seconds that Dempsey is out of the ring to the dialogue-heavy back and forth between Verani and Ledesma about Mahler and Strauss to the detective work of figuring out who the dead man from 1923 was (and the reasons for and consequences of his death), it's a novel that packs a great deal in. Juggling so many storylines and approaches, it's hard for Kohan to maintain the narrative drive; it sputters occasionally, and the reader, constantly forced to switch time, place, and subject matter, likely stumbles in these thickets.
       There are rewards here: much of this is well done, and the history -- both of the bout, and the Strauss and Mahler bits -- is fascinating. The story of the dead man turns out to fit in well, too, but the larger structure comes to feel almost like an Escher print, often beautiful in its detail and clever in its conception, but also dizzying and, in its illusion, not truly coherent.
       An interesting novel, rather than a truly successful one.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 August 2011

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Seconds Out: Reviews: Dempsey v. Firpo: Martín Kohan: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine writer Martín Kohan was born in 1967.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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