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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Tyrant Memory

Horacio Castellanos Moya

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To purchase Tyrant Memory

Title: Tyrant Memory
Author: Horacio Castellanos Moya
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 268 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Tyrant Memory - US
Tirana memoria - US
Tyrant Memory - UK
Tyrant Memory - Canada
Tyrant Memory - India
Der schwarze Palast - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: Tirana memoria
  • Translated by Katherine Silver

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Our Assessment:

B : decent if limited novel of Maximiliano Hernández Martínez's fall

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 4/7/2011 Florian Borchmeyer
NZZ . 23/9/2010 Albrecht Buschmann
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/7/2011 Sheila Glaser

  From the Reviews:
  • "Im Schwarzen Palast nun fliessen die beiden grossen erzählerischen Stärken Moyas gleichermassen ein: in Haydées Tagebuch seine Fähigkeit, Figurenstimmen so authentisch zu modellieren, dass sie gleichsam hörbar werden, und sein feines Gespür für Rhythmus, das die parallelen Erzähllinien auf hintergründige Weise packend voranzutreiben weiss." - Albrecht Buschmann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "While all parts are not equal -- it is Haydéée’s story we are most eager to hear -- Tyrant Memory remains Castellanos Moya’s most ambitious novel to date. If most of Castellanos Moya’s novels register a kind of ideological exhaustion, Tyrant Memory traces the slide toward disenchantment." - Sheila Glaser, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tyrant Memory is based on actual events, the bulk of the novel taking place between the end of March and the beginning of May, 1944. El Salvadorean dictator Maximiliano Hernández Martínez is not named, but referred to as 'the General' , 'Mr.President' -- or 'the Nazi warlock' or simply 'the warlock' -- and the novel describes the last days of his regime. First comes a failed coup attempt, and then a more successful general strike that drives him from office.
       The bulk of the novel is narrated in alternating chapters. One set consists of Haydée's diary entries: the wife of a prominent journalist (and critic of the warlock), Pericles, she begins her diary when her husband is once again jailed. Treated fairly well and respectfully, Pericles is nevertheless sidelined from most of the action, and it is Haydée who becomes drawn into the oppositional activity. Juggling her many family responsibilities -- and in this small country various family members also play roles in the warlock's regime, complicating the matters of allegiances and favors -- she becomes increasingly active in protecting the interests of those closest to her.
       The other set of chapters follow the fugitives Clemen -- one of Haydée and Pericles' children -- and Jimmy, who were at the forefront of the coup attempt and, when it failed, found themselves wanted, and soon with death sentences on their heads. This ill-matched pair stumble through their escape-attempts in scenes apparently meant to verge on the comic -- though Clemen is so insufferably obnoxious that it's hard to get over one's annoyance about how he acts.
       Tyrant Memory is a different sort of revolution-novel, with most of the revolutionary activity and the principals only seen from afar; so, too, the warlock himself, who remains a figure about whose activities there's little more than rumor and hearsay. Clemen at least leads part of the call to the charge, but the focus is only on him when he is entirely cut off from being an active participant in history and he is instead (desperately) on the run, while (very privileged) housewife Haydée does become quite active, yet also for the most part only on the periphery.
       Of course, it's also a different sort of revolution -- the more traditional coup d'état attempt falls apart quickly, while it's a general strike that eventually forces the bum out. Castellanos Moya does describe his characters trying to do their best during this time quite entertainingly, but the tension is rather limited. These are vivid characters and voices as presented in Haydée's diary entries and the back-and-forth dialogue that dominates the Clemen-and-Jimmy chapters, but the stories rarely become compelling: there's still a lot that's humdrum to Haydée's coming and going, and the only intermittent glimpse of what happens to Clemen and Jimmy breaks up much of what excitement there might be to their flight. And Clemen, in particular, is too annoying a character: Castellanos Moya clearly means to describe unusual 'revolutionaries' -- the childish Clemen, along for the ride, the housewife suddenly thrust into a new role -- but the back and forth between these two storylines also doesn't serve either well.
       There is also a short second, concluding part to the book, a postscript from several decades later that offers a somewhat sobering consideration of what came after -- as "pandemonium in the streets due to strikes, elections, or a coup d'état" proved a recurring occurrence; it is a welcome coda -- but also another part that sits distinctly apart.
       Tyrant Memory doesn't quite all fit together, and too much of the action is ultimately too far removed from where history is being made -- most notably with Clemen and Jimmy stuck in their boat, waiting things out. Perhaps for local readers, more intimately familiar with the history addressed here, such a novel from the sidelines makes for a welcome additional perspective; for others, it may often prove simply too peripheral.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 July 2011

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Tyrant Memory: Reviews: Horacio Castellanos Moya: Other books by Horacio Castellanos Moya under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Horacio Castellanos Moya was born in Honduras in 1957 and grew up in El Salvador. He now lives abroad.

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© 2011 the complete review

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