Horacio Castellanos Moya – An Interview and a Review of Tyrant Memory

The magazine Revista N has a brief interview with Horacio Castellanos Moya about what inspires his writing and how in some ways he is asking a similar question that Vargas Llosa asked about Peru: when did El Salvador become fucked? The article goes on to wonder how that has influenced his newest novel and how it might try to de-fuck El Salvador.

Parafraseando a Vargas Llosa, ¿cuándo cree que “se jodió” El Salvador? ¿Hay algún otro territorio posible para sus novelas? El Salvador siempre estuvo jodido. En estas últimas dos décadas, ha hecho esfuerzos por “des-joderse”, pero la situación sigue siendo muy precaria. Ciertamente El Salvador ha sido el núcleo territorial de mis novelas, aunque se expandan hacia el centro de México, por el norte, y hacia Costa Rica, hacia el sur. Ocurren en lo que algunos antropólogos llaman Mesoamérica. No sé si saldré de ese territorio. Hasta ahora me he movido a mis anchas ahí.

¿Por qué en “La sirvienta y el luchador” la tragedia aparece tan encarnada entre el bien y el mal? La novela sucede en un momento de extrema polarización social y política. A las condiciones extremas de afuera, corresponden estados extremos internos, emociones y pensamientos extremos dentro del ser humano. Pero los personajes tienen sus gradaciones.

For the English speakers, the NY Times has a good review of Tyrant Memory, his newest book to appear in English.Having read it in Spanish when it first came out, I can concur with the review.

In his latest book to be translated into English, “Tyrant Memory,” Castellanos Moya strikes a different note. Written in three parts, it is based on real events: the 1944 military coup against El Salvador’s Nazi-­loving dictator general, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, which failed to oust him but was followed by a general strike that did. The book begins with the diary of a housewife, Haydée, whose husband, Pericles, is in prison for criticizing the government. Its plainspoken chattiness alternates with the more farcical and outlandish narrative of what happens to her eldest son, Clemen, and his cousin Jimmy as they seek to flee the country (both played a role in the coup). A brief coda, set decades later, is contemplative, even melancholic in spirit. While all parts are not equal — it is Haydée’s story we are most eager to hear — “Tyrant Memory” remains Castellanos Moya’s most ambitious novel to date.

If most of Castellanos Moya’s novels register a kind of ideological exhaustion, “Tyrant Memory” traces the slide toward disenchantment. Clemen, a capricious, womanizing newscaster, is a classic Castellanos Moya antihero — slightly ridiculous, self-­obsessed, propelled by romantic notions — but it is the naïve and warmhearted Haydée who sets the tone. Castellanos Moya’s sharp urban ironies give way to the rhythms of life in a provincial Latin American capital. It is a town as García Márquez might have imagined it were he to visit coups and counter-­coups instead of endless rains and butterfly swarms upon its citizens.