Somehow a compelling review of a great new translation managed to slip by the editorial watchdogs at the New York Times Book Review. The beneficiary of this negligence is the excellent Horacio Castellanos Moya, whose Tyrant Memory was recently published by New Directions.
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.