‘Identity’ by Felipe Alfau

Locos is classed as a novel, but this certainly holds as a short story. Like Borges, Alfau is a teller of stories within stories, and here the narrator has promised to tell the story of Fulano, a man who wanted to achieve great things in his life but failed to do so through some fault of his personality that made him almost invisible to others. He decides to take his own life, and writes a note, leaving it in his jacket on the bridge. An escaped felon sees it and takes on his own identity. Some time later the writer bumps into Fulano and finds that not only is he still invisible, but the man who has taken his life story is now successful. 

What’s great about this story is that the writer is so present in it, that Fulano is a character and, as a God-like narrator, the writer can watch but he can’t intervene. All he can do is tell the story of his life. 

Alfau was a Barcelona-born writer who lived in America most of his life, who wrote in English, and worked as a translator. Despite Locos being published when in his thirties, it had been lost until Dalkey Archive discovered it, and published it. He died in 1999, aged 97. 

Published in Locos, 1936, republished by Dalkey Archive Press 1987, and online at The Barcelona Review