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Senselessness Paperback – May 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The first of exiled Honduran novelist Moya's eight fictions to be translated in the U.S., this crushing satire has at its center a feisty young unnamed writer in penurious political exile from an unnamed Latin American country. It opens as he explains the daunting and dangerous freelance job he has taken in an also-unnamed neighboring state: to edit a 1,100-page report prepared for the country's Catholic archdiocese that details the current military regime's torture and murder of thousands of indigenous villagers. The writer despises the Church, but is moved and agitated by the disturbing testimonies of the survivors, at once unspeakable in their horror and unforgettable in their phrasing: the more they killed, the higher they rose up. More or less one long rant, the book's paragraphs go on for pages as the writer gives way to paranoia, and to a sexual longing that his loneliness and powerlessness make nearly unbearable, and that he expresses profanely. It's Moya's genius to make this difficult character seem a product of the same death and disorder documented in the report, as the survivors' voices merge with his own. (May)
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This dark and comic novel is a deft exercise in paranoia and the cost of reckoning with an enormity. (San Francisco Chronicle, Phil Bronstein) REVIEW: Reader does not experience fright so much as the verbal bounce of...well-sprung prose. (The New York Sun, Benjamin Lytal) REVIEW: A perfect sense of black-comic timing, the book's style is distinctive. (Times Union, Elizabeth Floyd Mair) REVIEW: An innovative and invigoratinly twisted piece of art. (The Village Voice, Jed Lipinski) REVIEW: This masterwork...recently translated seamlessly into an arresting read. (SF Gate, Mauro Javier Cardenas) REVIEW: Manages a brilliant narrative strategy...where everything happens at once. (Ron Slate, Ron Slate) REVIEW: Chaotic, rampaging approach that characterizes almost the entirety of this short, spirited work. (Daily Literary News, Sameer Rahim) REVIEW: A brave and important novel. (Ready Steady Book, Stephen Mitchelmore)

Reader does not experience fright so much as the verbal bounce of...well-sprung prose.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 142 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; n edition (May 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811217078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811217071
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #297,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By R. Reese on June 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
Reading Senselessness is like being sucked into a literary whirlwind-- it pulls you in immediately and intensely, and it never lets go. It is above all else a great read. Fortunately it is short, or you might starve, it is that compelling. And it is very, very funny, though be warned: its humor is always ironic and on-the-edge.

Imagine Lenny Bruce writing a Graham Greene novel where the narrator is Lenny Bruce imagined by Graham Greene. Imagine a situation where style itself is politically volatile and editing akin to the erasing of memory and people, literally "rewriting" history (not in the "as if" vein of Saramago, as a counter-argument to the idea of history, but as the accepted standard version at the heart of politics and power.)

And finally, consider: the narrator-editor is a loquacious, paranoid, horny, and non-pc yet politically fastidious and sensitive observer. Worried that he himself has become entangled in the violent politics surrounding the book he is editing and possibly about to become the next victim, he is also moved by the stories he edits-- testimonies of indigenous witnesses to atrocities who are not "native" speakers of the language (Spanish) in which they give testimonies, testimonies already professionally "cleaned up" by sociologists and oral historians. So in some ways, the book's problem is to "restore" the truth and speak the unspoken, perhaps the unspeakable, indeed locate a reliable author/authority.

Senselessness is a serious piece of post-modern literature that offers the fun and thrills of a roller coaster ride-- total loss of gravity in the hands of a master of panic.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 2, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The nameless narrator of SENSELESSNESS is engaged to copyedit an 1,100-page manuscript collecting and analyzing the oral eyewitness testimonies to the slaughter, torture, and rape of indigenous peoples of a Central American country (not identified, but surely Guatemala) by governmental forces during a civil war. Midway through his work, he resolves not to try to turn any of the testimonies into a novel, "because nobody in his right mind would be interested in writing or publishing or reading yet another novel about murdered indigenous peoples." Yet that is exactly what Castellanos Moya has done in SENSELESSNESS.

The testimonies, which are scattered throughout this novella, are horrendous and gruesome, repulsive yet riveting. They tell of machete-butcherings of entire families, torture, emasculation, and gang-rape. The narrator becomes haunted and possessed by stray sentences from the testimonies. For example, "The pigs they are eating him, they are picking over his bones"; "There in Izote the brains they were thrown about, smashed with logs they spilled them"; and "I am not complete in the mind". Sadly, those extracts are NOT fictitious. They and others from the novella are from actual testimonies that Castellanos Moya reviewed. Woven into the warp and woof of the novella, they make for extraordinarily powerful fiction.

But what elevates SENSELESSNESS to another plane is that it is not solely an account of horror and mayhem. It also deals with the effort to go on with life as if such barbarity did not, and does not, happen. Outside work on the project, the narrator pursues the life of a hip, cosmopolitan, young professional -- parties, bars, restaurants, and skirt-chasing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on June 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An unnamed writer is hired by the human rights office of the Catholic Church of an unnamed Central American 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, over a hundred thousand indigenous Mayan people were killed and hundreds of their villages were destroyed, and now, many years later, the human rights office at the cathedral plans to publish the survivors' testimonies for the first time. Telling his story in the first person, the writer/editor, an atheist, confesses that he is concerned about the relationship between some members of the church hierarchy and members of the army, and he trusts no one.

The editor, whose stream-of-consciousness opinions and emotional reactions involve the reader from the outset, becomes a true character here, his sardonic humor vying for attention with his paranoia about being pursued by the army, his relentless sexual fantasies and attempted seductions, and his commentary about particularly memorable and poetic sentences that he finds in the testimonies of the uneducated survivors. Self-conscious in the extreme, he constantly worries about what people think of him, especially women, at the same time that, ironically, he imagines writing a novel about a brave civil registrar who dies to protect the truth.

As he reads the dramatic and heart-rending testimonies, he gradually becomes more and more involved with the stories, his increasing emotional involvement taking its toll.
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