Stacy Hardy reviews the English translation of Horacio Castellanos Moya‘s Senselessness (New Directions, 2008, Katherine Silver, trans.).
“I am not complete in the mind.” So begins the first of exiled Honduran novelist Moya’s novels to be translated into English. This riotous satire, set in an unnamed South American country, tells the story of a boozing, sex-obsessed writer who finds himself employed by the Catholic Church. His mission? To proofread an 1,100-page report on the government’s massacre and torture of thousands of indigenous villagers a decade earlier. The novel’s never-named narrator loathes the church but is seduced by what he sees as the poetry of the testimonies. The first line of the novel, which is also the first line of the manuscript, charts the narrator’s trajectory: a whirlwind descent into madness and paranoia, as the survivors’ voices increasingly merge with his own. Moving back and forth between the past and the present, the page and the world, this is a novel of big ideas; a maddening, literary investigation into language, its possibilities and its failings. In turns funny, violent, bitingly ironic, pornographic, deeply compassionate and profoundly moral, Senselessness asks: Is it possible to speak of that which cannot be spoken? Can history ever be transcended? And will poetry ultimately save the world?