Renowned Salvadoran novelis Horacio Castellanos Moya, author of “Senselessness,” visited Cabrini College’s campus for a book reading and signing on Thursday, Nov. 6.
“The main pleasure for a writer is, what else besides writing, reading,” Moya said.
The department of English sponsored the event on campus as part of their annual Literary November Celebration.
Dr. Seth Frechie, associate professor of English, had an opportunity over the summer to read the manuscript of Moya’s “Senselessness,” Moya’s first novel translated into English. Just a few months later, he was given the opportunity to have Moya come to campus and meet with students.
“Thanks for inviting me, I will talk you a little bit so you can get used to my accent so you will enjoy better what I have to tell you,” Moya said humorously before reading the first chapter of his novel.
“Senselessness” is a novel that accounts the indigenous victims of human rights violations in Guatemala and Latin America, what Latin American writer Roberto Bollano referred to as “the secret Vietnam, a silent holocaust.” The narrator in the novel is not given a name or a location, which allows the reader to imagine the stories as taking place in any extreme political situation.
“[The reader] can take from a case like this and put it at a universal level. For instance, if you’re in Peru you can relate it to your own crisis,” Moya said.
Many of the victims from the novel are based on real victims who have been personally attacked, or on the testimony of those who were family members. The novel is loosely based on the events of “Guatemala: Never Again,” a four-volume history published by the Catholic Archdiocese of Guatemala.
The central crisis of Moya’s country of El Salvador is another 12-year civil war that ended with a peace agreement in 1992 that ended the reign of the right-wing government and granted power to another organization known as the FMLN.
FMLN, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, fought with the right-wing government against leftist guerilla groups. The FMLN took control of the country in hopes of keeping the peace for the people of El Salvador.
Yet, due to corruption within the government after the civil war, funds are limited causing special projects to be ignored and not allowing for any real societal improvement.
The narrator in the novel copes with the violence through two vices. He is an alcoholic, paranoid and sex-obsessed journalist that lands a job as a copy editor after leaving his country to get away from political oppression. However, Moya’s protagonist is confronted with even more oppression and violence in this new country.
When asked about how he develops characters in a question and answer session, Moya said that there are two ways to create characters: the writer can base the character on one person and make a version of it, or he can mix different features of different people so that [in this case] the reader has the idea that you have an aggregate individual representing middle-class intellectuals from Latin America.
Moya said, “This novel is not autobiographic, but you won’t be surprised if you find someone like that [the narrator] in South America.”
“I am not complete in the mind,” the narrator repeats over and over again, echoing the testimony of an indigenous Guatemalan who is given voice throughout the novel. Eventually, the narrator comes to the conclusion that the entire population is not complete in the mind. He asks how can a country be “complete in the mind” when so much violence is perpetrated against one’s fellow man?
Moya wrote the novel almost five years after the events took place. Even though he wrote it afterwards, he possessed a strong impulse to tell the story of the victims. Moya serves an advocate for the people of the silent holocaust his work memorializes.
“How can someone really know what happened without being a witness to it or a victim,” Moya said.