Tyrant Memory by Horacio Castellanos Moya – Reviews

Three Percent has a good review of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Tyrant Memory, a book I reviewed several years ago when I read it in Spanish. I would recommend the book and if you are not sold on it just by the author then perhaps one our reviews will help.

My Review:

Tirana Memoria is the latest novel by the El Salvadoran novelest Horacio Castellanos Moya, who also published a translation of his novel Senselessness (Insensatez) in English this year. Tirana Memoria, although fictional, is about the 1944 overthrow of General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez and takes place over a month and a half period when a failed coup led to reprisals which ultimately led to the general strike that forced the general to flee the country. Part diary, part convicts-on-the-lam narrative, it alternates between comedy and tension as the characters elude the army and the police and attempt to survive post coup repression.

The novel opens as Haydée, the wife of Pericles, relates in her diary that Pericles has been taken to prison again. Pericles is a newspaper editor known for writing essays opposing the government and imprisonment is nothing new. Haydée writes of going to the prison each day to have lunch with him and bring him daily necessities like cigarettes. She is an upper class woman and even though she doesn’t like going to the prison, she has become used to the daily task. However, she is not a political person and all she wants from her visits are to see her husband and find out when he will be released. She is so unpoliticized and accustomed to his imprisonment that when she thinks Percilies will be released she goes to the hairdresser so she will look nice for him. The sheltering has created a woman who, though dedicated, is not consciously aware of the dangers, almost as if the constant imprisonments are part of an annoying game. She has an almost naive sense of entitlement and only midway through the novel when her political consciousness has awakened does she begin to understand what has shaped her.

From Three Percent:

Set over the course of one month in 1944, with a concluding chapter taking place twenty nine years later, the novel’s backdrop is the failed military coup against Salvadoran President Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, a sympathizer of European Fascism and casual mystic whose legacy of human rights abuses is frequently recounted by way of his assertion that it is better to kill a man than to kill an ant. The man will be reincarnated, the ant won’t.

The novel—which, it should be noted, is set during the nascent days of Latin America’s “secret Vietnam”—opens with the diary entries of Haydée, a housewife whose husband Pericles, a political journalist, has just been imprisoned for writing an article criticizing the government of Martinez, or as he is more commonly referred to throughout the novel, the Warlock. It is the eve of an anticipated coup and Haydée is certain that the impending fall of the Warlock will ensure her husband’s safe return. Instead the failed attempt on his life leaves her family in shambles, in large part to due her bumbling eldest son Clemens, who prematurely announces the Warlock’s death on national radio. Needless to say, Clemens is very soon public enemy number one.

The novel is built on two alternating narratives, moving from Haydée’s chatty diary entries to a far more streamlined, and slapstick, account of Clemens going into hiding. This pairing can read as a warped sort of he-said-she-said, whereby no one actually knows what anyone said. Both narratives are so thoroughly built upon hearsay, gossip and speculation that each serves as a highly adulterated, though hardly unfulfilling, accompaniment to the other.

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2 thoughts on “Tyrant Memory by Horacio Castellanos Moya – Reviews

  1. This sounds much lighter than Insensatez! Did you like this humorous venture better than Castellanos Moya’s darker works or is it the other way around for you?

  2. I haven’t had a chance to read Insensatez yet. I keep meaning to but it is always checked out at the local university, the only place they have a copy in Seattle. I could read the English version, too one of these days. From what I’ve heard I’m really looking forward to Insensatez and my guess is I’ll like it more.

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