In this consummate homage to books, Guatemalan author Rodrigo Rey Rosa introduces the unnamed owner of a bookstore in Guatemala – a commercial rarity, he points out – before moving on to describe the bookseller’s life, the books he enjoys, his book-loving friends, and, ultimately the book thief who haunts his store and with whom he has fallen in love. Writing in clear language without fanciful flourishes, Rey Rosa tells a classic story of love and loss and life and death, and those looking for a simple love story with unusual characters in an exotic setting will be amply rewarded as they meet and follow Severina, the novel’s beautiful and unusual “heroine.” The novel is far deeper than that, however. It is also a complex meditation on books and why people read them; on the value of libraries, both public and private; and on how books contribute to the very essence of life for cultures, societies, and individuals. Clever and thoughtful, Rey Rosa proves that it is possible to create a BIG novel in remarkably few words and do it on many levels at once, satisfying the reader on all levels. Life and death, love, books. Who could ask for more?
Category Archive for 'Guatemala'
Though he has been celebrated by Roberto Bolano and many other Latin American authors, Guatemalan author Rodrigo Rey Rosa, has been a well-kept secret to most English-speaking readers. Of his almost two dozen works published to acclaim in Latin America, only four have been published in English, and three of those are translations into English by famed American expatriate author Paul Bowles, who was Rey Rosa’s literary mentor. Living in Morocco while he translated several of Paul Bowles’s novels into Spanish, Rey Rosa came to know the country well, finding life on the African shore of the Mediterranean markedly different from that of the European shore represented by France and Spain, both of which had claimed Morocco as a protectorate until after the mid-1950s. Rey Rosa reflects upon these changes as he presents three interrelated scenarios, in which three separate characters express their own points of view and live independent lives which sometimes overlap with other lives within the book. Rey Rosa composes these separate scenarios so carefully that each could stand alone as a short story or novella, and they are often so poetic and filled with lyrical details that critics have described them as “prose poems.” Elegantly written, The African Shore conveys much information about cultures, past and present, along with the people who straddle the worlds of Europe and Africa. The animism of the rural farmers, which infuses their lives with magical explanations; the Muslim culture, which provides comfort and identity to large numbers of people from all levels of society; and the criminality which seems to be filling a vacuum in the wake of the country’s independence from Spain and France, all play a role in the imagery and symbolism which connects the many facets of this marvelous work.
An unnamed writer is hired by a friend who works with the human rights office of the Catholic Church of an unnamed country to edit and proofread eleven hundred pages of testimony—“the memories of the hundreds of survivors of and witnesses to the massacres perpetrated in the throes of the so-called armed conflict between the army and the guerrillas.” During the 1970s and 1980s, the army declared that the indigenous Indians who had lived in remote Mayan villages for hundreds of years were anti-government leftists, and soldiers conducted widespread genocide wiping out hundreds of villages and killing over a hundred thousand people. Now, many years later, the human rights office at the cathedral plans to publish the survivors’ testimonies for the first time. Castellanos Moya creates a powerful work of fiction from some of the western hemisphere’s most horrendous brutality, giving enough detail to shock the reader into questioning how human beings could not only commit some of these atrocities but enjoy the bloodshed in the process. At the same time, however, he is aware of the limits on violence that a reader can comprehend before “tuning out,” a rare quality which he exploits by juxtaposing some of the worst details of torture against images of the absurdities in the speaker’s personal life.