Horacio Castellanos Moya's Tyrant Memory is a book of revolution, of tanks rolling through city streets, of intrigue, imprisonment, and exile, of torn families and firing squads — but it will not for that reason be passed around dorm rooms, nor is it likely to feature on Glenn Beck's old chalkboard. In El Salvador in April 1944, the dictatorship of Maximiliano Herna´ndez Marti´nez, a fascist who welcomed the advance of Hitler, suffered first a coup, then a general strike. Led by a coalition of patrician families, businesses, and banks, the strike succeeded in toppling Martinez, nicknamed "The Warlock," and winning its general demands: greater liberty, stable export prices, and closer ties with the USA.
Vive la Revolution! Revolutions, it seems, like recessions, take many forms, not many of them communist and none of them purely "from below." The rich are in revolt at least as often as the poor, against others of their class and, more familiar to those of us in the United States, against the social and political pretensions of the poor themselves. At any rate, that stubborn image of the great unwashed leaving their humble chores — as maids and coal-miners and such — to topple statues and write inspirational graffiti, is not a great deal of help.
In Tyrant Memory, recently translated by Katherine Silver and released by New Directions, the poor aren't even given a chance. The novel begins in the diaries of Dona Haydée Aragon, a patrician mother whose husband Pericles has been jailed for writing polemics against the Tyrant. Over the course of the novel, she gradually transforms from a loyal wife with connections into a zealous political agent. This is, of course, the glorious transformation prophesied by a great deal of revolutionary agitprop: that in the moment of struggle we will cease to be ourselves. Read More