Senselessness (El Salvador)

Senselessness the book coverby Horacio Castellanos Moya

I am not complete in the mind, I said, upon finishing this novel:

  • *a novel which exceeded all my expectations
  • *a novel for which I did not have many expectations–I do not know why–
  • *perhaps I entered unthinkingly into its intensely colorful, paranoid, tragic and dangerous world
  • *perhaps I entered that world expecting a dull but dutifully disapproving and fictionalized account of the tragedies that have befallen indigenous peoples the world over–the horrors so endemic to banana republics–see The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Partsand
  • *perhaps I was not expecting a South American writer–to me as yet unknown–to reveal a grasp of the beauty and poetry of language as powerful as Dickens or Chaucer or indeed, Jane Austen; to prove himself not merely a worker in metal but a craftsman of the highest caliber.

I was not expecting it to be funny. The novel shines like gold among a sea of novels I have read for this blog.

The Plot, Oh Yes, the Plot

All right, the plot AND the writing style:

The narrator has been hired by the Catholic Church in a hot and Spanish-speaking country where the military is all-powerful. His job is to edit a report detailing military atrocities against the indigenous people–like the Cakchiquel man who is not complete in his mind after witnessing his family’s murder. The Indians’ reports, however, are full of such unexpected (and disturbing) poetry that the narrator starts copying down their turns of phrase in his notebook.

The narrator has had to flee his own country for publishing a remark in the newspaper about the leadership and he suffers a powerful paranoia that “they”–of both countries–may be after him. The problem is  that “they” really might be.

To paraphrase the writer’s first sentence:

I am not complete in the mind, I said, upon finishing this novel–much like the narrator who is even now highlighting with the yellow marker the sentence above; because this isn’t just any old sentence, much less some wisecrack, not by any means, but rather the sentence that astonishes the narrator more than any other sentence he reads that first day on the job; the sentence that most dumbfounds him during his first incursion into those 1,100 almost single-spaced printed pages placed on what would be his desk by his friend Erick so he can get some idea of the task that awaits him.

The Style, the Style

How the writer manages to inform and entertain at such a high level of prose is beyond me. How does he manage:

  • the huge, Pride & Prejudice-worthy sentences that you rush through to get the cheese at the end of the maze…then you go back and read slowly because wow…you want to experience them again
  • a plot that stands witness to the most cruel injustices and human rights violations and yet is so funny

If I could write like this…well, I wish I could! The story is witty and beautiful and tragic and sad and infuriating and…read it, read it, read it. Sex and drinking.

The End

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