Another week, another 5-star review—it can’t be helped; this one richly deserves it. This novel came to my attention after seeing a quote on Castellanos Moya from Roberto Bolaño somewhere and then finding another one on the back cover of this incredible book:
One of the great virtues of [his work]: nationalists of all stripes can’t stand it. Its sharp humor, not unlike a Buster Keaton film or a time bomb, threatens the fragile stability of imbeciles who, when they read [his work], have an uncontrollable desire to hang the author in the town square. I can’t think of a higher honor for a writer.Nor can I.
Castellanos Moya is a stylist—a stylist of the Faulkner/McCarthy/Marías school—using very long, convoluted, complicated sentences that convey, not only the story, but the feverish pace at which the narrator comes to realize that his own circumstances and sensibilities have begun to mirror those of an indigenous population whose words—their oral histories—reflect the torture and killing of their families and neighbors at the hands of a brutal Central American government in a text to be published by the Church (which was either complicit or condoned the earlier aggression). The narrator keeps a notebook of various lines from the text which almost serve as a summary of his own changing circumstances.
Perhaps I’m just a pushover when it comes to novels narrated by translators, or poets, or authors, or in this case, an editor—who other than an editor would use a sentence like:
For always the dreams they are there still, I repeated, a splendid sentence that had lit up my afternoon at the archbishop’s palace, its sonority, its impeccable structure, which spread itself out into eternity without skipping over the moment, its use of an adverb to wring the neck of time.—but in each case of this sort, I’m usually either very moved by the language or tremendously disappointed. Fortunately, I’ve had more good experiences than bad. This is another that won’t be for everyone and is guardedly recommended for those who are more interested in the telling than the tale—which is not to say the story disappoints, but rather to say that the telling is stunningly accomplished.