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Tyrant Memory Paperback – June 29, 2011
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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“Brilliantly funny and unsettling. Despite his estrangement from his country and his merciless criticism of it, he has put El Salvador on the literary map, giving it an international existence.”
- Natasha Wimmer, The Nation
“A welcome, eye-opening addition to this new literature of the Latin American nightmare.”
- Anderson Tepper, Time Out New York
“In Tyrant Memory, Castellanos Moya’s ambitious and deft handling of his characters’ stories and political milieus reveal a writer unparalleled in his ability to portray the anxieties and messy complexities of political and personal turmoil.”
- Jeffery Zuckerman, Review of Contemporary Fiction
“Tyrant Memory stands out because of its scrupulous evocation of an atmosphere of conspiracy and its use of historical events.”
- Times Literary Supplement
“The only writer of my generation who knows how to narrate the horror, the secret Vietnam that Latin America was for a long time.”
- Roberto Bolan~o
“Castellanos Moya can be a brilliant practitioner of edge of collapse, culling searing narratives of exile and estrangement.”
- Julia Haav, Three Percent
About the Author
Horacio Castellanos Moya was born 1957 in Honduras. He has lived in San Salvador, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico (where he spent ten years as a journalist, editor, and political analyst), Spain, and Germany. In 1988 he won the National Novel Prize from Central American University for his first novel. His work has been published and translated in England, Germany, El Salvador and Costa Rica. He has published ten novels and is now living in exile as part of the City of Asylum project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Katherine Silver is an award-winning literary translator and the co-director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre (BILTC).
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Top customer reviews
There are four main characters in TYRANT MEMORY: Doña Haydée Aragón, an affluent society matron who is so incensed by the repeated outrages of the Nazi warlock that she becomes politicized and a minor ring-leader of the General Strike; her husband Pericles Aragón, a cynical communist who spends the entire revolution in jail as a political prisoner; their son Clemente ("Clemen"), a radio broadcaster whose high spirits lead him to take part in the failed coup d'etat but who in truth is an insufferable spoiled jerk; and their nephew Jimmy Ríos Aragón, a soldier who participated in the failed putsch, for which he is sentenced to death in absentia, while he and his cousin Clemen go underground and try to escape the country.
The novel consists of two parts. The first, which takes up the majority of the text, is set in the spring of 1944, contemporaneous with the failed military revolt and then the successful citizens' Strike. It is comprised of the daily entries from Haydée's diary (told in the first person), interspersed with vignettes of Clemen and Jimmy during their escape odyssey (told mostly through the increasingly strained dialogue between the two). Part II is an epilogue of sorts, set in 1973 and told by Chelón, an old, long-time friend of Haydée and Pericles. The Revolution of 1944 had been a momentous event, especially given its non-violent nature, but from the perspective of 1973 precious little seemed to have been accomplished (and that, of course, was before the Civil War that roiled the country between 1980 and 1992).
Horacio Castellanos Moya (born 1957) fled El Salvador just before that Civil War broke out in open violence. Since then, he has established himself as one of the finest Latin American authors, writing primarily about the violence and political unrest that seemingly is endemic to Central America. "Senselessness" was one of the best and most powerful novels I have read in a long time. TYRANT MEMORY does not have the same visceral impact. It also is quite different, much more conventional, in style. Those who tend to think of contemporary Latin literature as Magical Realism imparted with cascading, convoluted prose should read TYRANT MEMORY both as a corrective and a welcome change of pace. Its characters are well-drawn and it has more than sufficient plot and suspense. It is a fine novel, certainly a very important addition to the literature of El Salvador, if not a significant addition to world literature, as was "Senselessness".
Dona Haydee Aragon, the middle-aged wife of Pericles Aragon, a journalist who has been jailed, becomes the first person narrator of the tumultuous events that occur between Mar. 24 and May 5, 1944. Castellanos Moya does a remarkable job of conveying the personality of Dona Haydee, carrying her vanity and lack of real interest in politics to a satiric extreme, while, at the same time, conveying the very real horrors committed by The Warlock and his army. As Dona Haydee writes of events in her diary, the reader comes to know the many members of her large family, their political persuasions, and their plans for the future. When the rumored coup finally takes place, Pericles is still in jail, though it affects other members of Dona Haydee's family, notably Clemen, her son, a news-reader on the major San Salvador radio station, and her nephew Jimmy, both of whom are suddenly on the run.
At this point, the novel becomes a two-part dialogue, with Dona Haydee writing her casual and chatty diary about what is happening in her life in San Salvador, while the two fugitives provide commentary on their own activities, often very funny, even farcical, as they try to avoid the military who have them on their deathlist. Part III takes place in 1973 and brings the fates of the various characters up to date.
The author creates some sympathy for Dona Haydee, leavening the narrative with absurdities and ironies as she tries to deal with her husband's plight, and her apolitical stance sets the General's revenge on the plotters into sharper relief. In the midst of the coup, for example, she has dinner at the Casino with her mother, where, she records, they had a "delicious paella" and an "exquisite guava tart." And when her best friend's husband is executed, Dona Haydee "felt like something the cat dragged in, and I did not want to show up at the wake looking like that," so she goes to the beauty parlor to get her hair done. All this shows the clear separation of roles between men and women at this time, but it also puts the horrors into ironic perspective. The fugitives--Dona Haydee's silly son Clemen and his much more serious cousin Jimmy--add to the picture of daily life as they try to avoid the military, and at one point, when they enlist the aid of a friendly priest, the novel hits its true comic high point.
Though the minutiae of Dona Haydee's daily life may eventually become a bit wearing, the author spares us the succession of horrors committed in retribution for the coup attempt. The author does succeed in raising interest in the history of El Salvador for readers who may be unfamiliar with its tumultuous history, and he wisely recognizes the advantage of standing apart and letting the reader discover new information without polemics and horror tales. Mary Whipple