Horacio Castellanos Moya says that he was left “like now, tired of the character, let’s leave him there sunk in Stockholm, we’ll see what he does”. Erasmo Aragón, journalist and historian, is the protagonist of the tame man (Random House Literature), his new novel, and it was also Moronga (2018) and from The dream of return (2013). “He is formed within a framework of values of a very precise area that is Central America”, explains the writer, “and when he leaves for Europe or the United States he is confronted with different value systems. When I speak this time of taming, I mean that this man has to shed the values on which he built his personality, which have to do with virility, machismo or the supremacy of force, in order to adapt to another world. . And he’s not ready to do it, that’s why it’s so hard for him. He is no longer a child, he is an old person who has his mental structure crystallized and who cannot become politically correct overnight. What does he do if he takes away those values, what does he put in their place, how does he fill the void they leave?
the tame man It starts with a dejected Erasmo Aragón after being accused of sexually abusing a Guatemalan teenager. “They kick him out of the university where he works as soon as they know about the complaint and he sinks and enters a psychiatric clinic,” says Castellanos Moya. They judge him, they acquit him, he was nothing more than an infamy, there is nothing, but he was left without a job and without plans for the future. “He is a trained man with life experience who suddenly faces a society that condemns him before having judged him, and breaks him. The novel starts there, when it has to be rebuilt, I’m not going to say whether successfully or unsuccessfully, and the story takes place in Stockholm. He wanted that guy who comes from fanatical, violent and sexist societies to live in the climate of tolerance and equality of one of the most advanced societies in terms of rights”.
Between Castellanos Moya and Erasmo Aragón there are points of contact. In The dream of return the character wants to return from Mexico to El Salvador to participate after the civil war that his country has experienced in the construction of democracy from leftist positions, as happened to the writer. And as it also happens to him, in Moronga his character is a professor in the United States and investigates the story of Salvadoran writer and guerrilla Roque Dalton who died in tragic circumstances. “There is nothing autofictional about it,” he explains, “the fundamental problems and characteristics of the character are constructed from fiction. He is not a alter ego, It’s not me: I’ve never lived with a Swedish nurse, I’ve never been in a hospital, I’ve never been accused of sexual harassment. But I place it in places where I have lived to give more credibility to what happens to it.”
Horacio Castellanos Moya was born in 1957 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, but moved to El Salvador at the age of four and it is that country that permeates every nerve of his work. He has worked as an editor in magazines, newspapers and press agencies; his first novel the diaspora, It is from 1989. He lived 13 years in Mexico City, but he also lived in Spain, Germany, Canada, Sweden and other Latin American countries. Of the twenty books and stories that she has published, there are several that put together a sort of national episodes that reconstruct the 20th century of El Salvador through the Aragón family, of which Erasmo is the last scion: the fight against the Martínez dictatorship, the war against Honduras, the conflict that pitted Salvadorans against each other —which narrates through the servants of the family—, the construction of democracy, going abroad, the present.
“It is easy to summarize the history of El Salvador in the 20th century,” explains Castellanos Moya. “From 1930 to 1980 there was what can be called a military tyranny with different expressions and different colonels. From 1980 to 1990 it was the civil war. During the following years, the two sides build democracy with all its formal components, quite perfect for the country’s experience, but fail to create a solid social fabric with strong education and health. Thirty years later and through the popular vote, a messianic caudillo comes to power who destroys the institutions and is creating a political regime sui generis. People are happy with Bukele, bad business. And when he loses popular support, he will have that of the army. It is a jump to the twenties, the prelude to what arrived in the thirties: the dictatorship”.
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“Isn’t there something in all this that rhymes with the rest of the world?”
—Bukele is a local expression of what is happening in other places. Here we have half the French people enthusiastic about Mrs. Le Pen or the United States, which has already elected Donald Trump once and will surely elect him again. There are many other examples of countries with a high degree of civilization that have chosen to self-destruct. They do it from within, liquidating parties and institutions.
Castellanos Moya talks about the violence of the gangs in El Salvador (“the gangrenous part of society”), comments that there will be no progress due to the development of technology (“they give you a cell phone, but that does not take away your old passions” ), refers to the war in Ukraine: “The Soviet empire was defeated in the nineties without a war, it was eaten away from within, but there is no way an empire can fall without a war, it had to happen to give it the biggest beating. And Putin fell into the ambush, he had no way out. He wanted to relaunch the Russian empire and he finds himself fighting for such a small province”. And he makes a gesture by putting his fingers together.
—And Latin America?
‘It’s a drifting continent. There is no catalytic element that explains what is happening, the differences are too great between a Boric in Chile and an Ortega in Nicaragua, for example. And Latin America is no longer thought of as intellectuals such as Alfonso Reyes, Ureña, Andrés Bello, Vasconcelos thought of the continent at the beginning of the 20th century… We only think through the instructions that the metropolises give us. A chaos.
A drifting continent, the same as a man without a compass as in his latest novel: “The problem comes when you have to transform too quickly and you don’t get it and you think there is no place for you in the world. The process is important, the one followed little by little by the advanced countries to strengthen the rights of women, of ethnic minorities, of LGTB groups. How are you going to talk about political correctness to El Mencho, who controls the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and who is as powerful as the Mexican army, the most wanted man by the FBI and the DEA, who has many people under his orders and with your idea of the world? How are you going to talk to him about that, how are you going to get him out of his archaic, sexist, violent, criminal ideas? Because we believe that the world should not be like this, the world is going to stop being like that. Change processes are very complicated
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