martes, 24 de noviembre de 2009


Senselessness [Insensatez] (New Directions, 2008)
by Horacio Castellanos Moya (translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver)
Guatemala and Mexico, 2004

As I grudgingly make my way through the entertainment no man's land that is the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy (update post later in the week), I'm happy to report that a novel about fucking genocide of all things has provided quite the welcome distraction.  In this short but incendiary novel, an unnamed narrator from an unnamed Latin American country is hired to be the copy editor in yet another unnamed Lat Am country for the latter land's 1,100 page human rights report on military atrocities committed against its indigenous population (although the particular countries are never mentioned, internal clues tip us off to the fact that the narrator's a refugee from El Salvador working in Guatemala before Bishop Gerardi's assassination). While polishing the report, the horrors of the testimony ("I am not complete in the mind" admits one man who has watched his wife and four children be hacked to death by machetes [1-2]; "There in Izote the brains they were thrown about, smashed with logs they spilled them" says another survivor [51]) and the narrator's own personal demons (alcoholism, drug dependency, womanizing, unspecified "personal problems") combine to haunt the character to the point that he's gradually turned into a raving paranoiac wreck in fear for his own life.  Rightly or wrongly. What follows is both predictable and unpredictable in more or less equal measure, an outcome I attribute more to the challenge of confronting genocide through fiction than the novelist's own chops as a writer.  For if the trajectory of the novel was telegraphed a little too far in advance for my tastes and its first person tone was too over the top for its own good on occasion, Castellanos Moya's prose in general throughout and a brutally ironic ending still seemed worthy of his grim subject matter.  Put that in your historical fiction pipe and smoke it, ladies.  (

Horacio Castellanos Moya

Note: I read this book in translation because I couldn't find the original Spanish version of Insensatez at my university library or local foreign language bookstore.  For more on Castellanos Moya's own background and writing, check out this profile here and a piece he did on his friend Bolaño Inc. here.

6 comentarios:

  1. Dude, you know what I'M reading to get away from Kristin? Direly religious meditations from a 14th-century German monk. What's that you say? Sounds like exactly the same overwrought Christian self-flagellation I'm trying to escape from? Oh yeah, THANKS GREAT IDEAS. Awesome of you to tie that up for me with a nice little ribbon.

  2. Fucking genocide preferable to Kristin Lavransdatter? Right there with you. Can't imagine what I will write this time. I feel a snark parade temptation coming but know I must squelch it. Have been pulling out obnoxious quotes for fun. How sad is that? Would anyone notice if I bailed on the rest, and read Senselessness instead? I have had a copy for so long. Sorry for not commenting specifically on it but I did not read your whole post knowing that I am getting to this eventually.

  3. Oh boy. You and Emily and Frances are all making me laugh. Poor Kristin...should be interesting! This book also sounds, um, interesting to some extent. Not sure I can see it in my future, but I would be interested on Frances' take. :)

  4. Oh blimey this book sounds a little bit hardcore for me. It might be a bit above me hahaha.

  5. Hey I kinda like Kristin! Yeah, she's nuts but so was everyone back then.

  6. *Emily: "Dire" sure sounds like it fits the bill either way, but I think I'd rather read the German monk than Undset any old day (I'm guessing he wouldn't need a thousand pages to make his "point"). Courage!

    *Frances: I hope you'll stick with KL to the bitter end because the group would miss your contributions otherwise, BUT I'd totally understand if you chose to read anything else instead. In any event, I look forward to hearing what you think of Senselessness whenever you get around to it (esp. since I copped the image from an old Lost in Translation guest post!). Happy/happier/happiest reading to you, my friend!

    *Sarah: I've gotten more enjoyment out of all these comments than I have from all of Kristin Lavransdatter so far, so now you know that you and Emily and Frances are more deserving of a Nobel than Sigrid Undset on my scorecard. And although I'm very interested in Frances' take on Senselessness as well, I can assure you that it's not the type of book that will appeal to everyone...unless they need a break from Kristin Lavransdatter, that is! Cheers!

    *Simon: While this novel's indeed "hardcore," you would appreciate it much, much more if you had just finished slogging your way through several hundred pages of another novelist whose main strength as a writer is having a title character who can cry on cue! Help!

    *E.L. Fay: I'm glad somebody likes Kristin! That means one less apology I have to dole out at the end of the readalong!!