Golders Green analyst delves into imaginative jungle

PUBLISHED: 12:47 10 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:40 07 September 2010

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A short story about a man venturing into the jungle became a novel exploring Rio de Janeiro s exotic nightlife for Golders Green therapist Gregorio Kohon, discovers features editor Bridget Galton GREGORIO Kohon has joined a lengthening list of psychoa

A short story about a man venturing into the jungle became a novel exploring Rio de Janeiro's exotic nightlife for Golders Green therapist Gregorio Kohon, discovers features editor Bridget Galton

GREGORIO Kohon has joined a lengthening list of psychoanalysts turned authors.

The Argentinean-born therapist, who runs his practice from his home in Beechcroft Avenue, Golders Green, says he was a poet first and a shrink second.

"I started writing quite young and always thought of myself as a poet," he says.

"Although I came from a rather poor background with no professionals, there was always expectation.

"Like any good Jewish mother, mine thought I would make it to university - so I was destined to be a civil engineer."

Kohon, 64, actually studied law, then literature before switching to psychology after falling in love with a girl who was studying the subject. He hasn't looked back since.

He became a therapist almost 40 years ago, arriving in England in 1970 to study young psychotic patients under renowned Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing.

But one day, the father-of-three sat down to pen a conference paper and a very different kind of writing poured out.

"I wrote a story about a man going into the jungle. I was taken over by writing. It was like opening a door to the imagination."

He worked the passage into his semi-autobiographical novel Red Parrot, Wooden Leg.

The novel was first published in Spanish under the title Papagayo Rojo, Pata de Palo and short-listed for a prestigious literary prize.

It follows aspiring young Argentinean writers Daniel and Luigi as they fall under the exotic spell of Rio de Janeiro's vibrant nightlife on its poverty-stricken streets.

The coming-of-age tale follows their adventures, loves, politics and hopes at a time of repression in 1960s South America.

We meet the parrot of the title as well as characters including Socrates the transvestite, Olinda the communist painter and Wanda the prostitute.

Although the story mirrors Kohon's own youthful experiences, he found that writing in the third person liberated his literary imagination.

"I discovered something my friends who write fiction had told me for years - that you can lie and invent. It's something I can't possibly do in clinical papers so it was fantastic.

"I could make it authentic yet I needed the freedom of the third person so I could put in anything I wanted.

"There are many references to things I know or experienced. But much of it is pure imagination."

Like Daniel, Kohon is Jewish and became involved with a young literary movement in 1960s Buenos Aires.

"Literature was very much part of life. There were lots of poets and writers and literary magazines were popular.

"One was clearly political and left-wing and was intensely involved with Sartre and Marxism and another was anarchic.

"We idolised the beat generation, listened to jazz and translated Miller and Ginsberg."

He too spent a few months in Rio when he was young and Brazil has fascinated him in later life.

"For the last few years, I have visited Brazil regularly. I am completely in love with it.

"I see the novel as a homage to a strange and wonderful country which has a very strong presence of black culture from Africa in its literature and music - in the way people walk and feel and eat.

"Brazil's mixture of Portuguese with black culture has created a fusion that's very alive, chaotic and vibrant."

In Argentina, Kohon, who describes himself as having a rebellious streak, leaned towards anarchic politics.

The Argentina of his childhood was dominated by Eva and Juan Peron.

"Political repression was part of daily life as was anti-Semitism," he says.

"Demonstrations were very dangerous under Peron's government in the 1950s. I remember when I was nine at primary school commenting to another kid who had a Peronist badge and he threatened to tell the teacher.

"However, the teacher was a Communist who was taken to jail by Peron. I remember collecting money to buy cigarettes to send to him in jail."

Kohon lived in Brisbane, Australia, in the 1980s where he founded a cultural and therapy institution - the Brisbane Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies.

He writes in the novel about the grim realities of Ongania's military regime in the late 1960s via a series of letters to Daniel from a friend still in Buenos Aires.

He is now planning a book of poems and another of short stories and says:

"I keep psychoanalysis and writing separate. Psychoanalysis doesn't influence my writing - it's my writing that influences my psychoanalysis. The two are linked by creativity.

"Starting to write was a kind of defiance as if psychoanalysis wasn't enough because there are other worlds out there. It was a recovery of something in my own history. It's so close to my heart."

Red Parrot, Wooden Leg is published by Karnac Books, priced £14.99.

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