In a novel which defies genre, author Horacio Castellanos Moya takes paranoia to new and often darkly humorous heights as an unnamed speaker, a journalist who has been living in exile in Mexico, tries to fulfill his dream of returning to his home in El Salvador, now that that country is beginning to seem less dangerous after its many coups. The author’s real-life experience gives verisimilitude to the speaker’s story, and his sense of perspective regarding his own life allows him to depict the excesses of the speaker’s chronic over-analyzing and unproductive dithering with kind of humor rare for a novel about revolutions and revolutionaries. Castellanos Moya himself lived through many events similar to those affecting the speaker. His first novel, known in English as Senselessness, became a controversial success for its unvarnished depiction of the genocide of Mayan Indians, and when the author’s mother received an anonymous death threat aimed at him, the author went into self-imposed exile in Mexico for ten years. Of the four novels by Castellanos Moya which have been translated into English, this is the lightest, and though it has some serious ideas, it is also the funniest and most seductively involving. Translator Katherine Silver, who keeps the stream-of-consciousness style running nonstop in colloquial English, also makes the details so lively that the story is both compelling and full of fun.
Category Archive for 'El Salvador'
Using different genres for each of his three novels which available in English, Horacio Castellanos Moya creates dramatically different tones, despite their common settings in Central America, and translator Katherine Silver’s own versatility is obvious as she recreates the different moods. Senselessness (2008), Castellanos Moya’s most powerful and most dramatic novel, conveys the horrors of Mayan genocide in an unnamed country which resembles Guatemala. By contrast, Tyrant Memory (2011) often verges on farce in its satirical depiction of the popular rebellion against a pro-Nazi dictator in El Salvador in 1944, an otherwise serious subject. The She-Devil in the Mirror (2009), also set in El Salvador and the least political of the three novels, is a murder mystery, told as a long monologue by Laura Rivera, a privileged, upperclass woman whose best friend has just been murdered. Castellanos Moya’s pacing is flawless as he suggests but does not always confirm the reader’s conclusions about these characters as described by Laura, and the novel’s finale is memorable, perfectly in keeping with tone and character. The details and subject matter are universal, rather than specific to El Salvador, and readers from around the world will be entertained and often amused by Castellanos Moya’s foray into noir fiction.
In Tyrant Memory, Horacio Castellanos Moya’s second novel to be translated into English (and published by New Directions), the author once again speaks out courageously about repression, abuses of power, military dictatorship, and cold-blooded executions in Central America, this time setting his novel in El Salvador in 1944. General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, a fascist known here as The Warlock, had come to power in a coup led by the military in 1931, and was still holding the country in an iron grip in 1944. Believing that a communist conspiracy was underway in the capital of San Salvador, he used the power of his army to clamp down on individual freedoms and terrorize his citizens into submitting to his gross abuses of human rights. Dona Haydee Aragon, the middle-aged wife of Pericles Aragon, becomes the first person narrator of the events that eventually culminate in a general strike aimed at the general’s removal. At this point, the novel becomes a two-part dialogue, with Dona Haydee writing her casual and chatty diary about what is happening in her life in San Salvador, while two fugitives, her son and nephew, provide commentary on their own activities, often very funny, even farcical, as they try to avoid the military who have them on their death list. Part III takes place in 1973 and brings the fates of the various characters up to date.
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.