As part of a series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Miguel del Castillo is introduced by previous Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelist Andrés Neuman.
The protagonist of this story, Miguel Angel, shares his name with another Miguel Angel, who fought with the guerrillas during the dictatorship and is being, in a way, idealized. Did Miguel Angel fear nothing, as we are told in the first lines? I doubt it. A man without fears would be an empty man, not an epic man. Brave people are people who do something with their weakness. There is, of course, a metaphorical transference through the main character’s name. A sort of historical guilt, inherited by a later generation that has no heroes nor epic memories, but does have a lot of questions. And questions, more than heroes, are the material from which good stories are made.
Del Castillo’s story is far more than an interesting testimony about the Tupamaros, the influential guerrilla organization to which the current Uruguayan president himself once belonged. Or about what in the Anglo world are usually (and wrongly: as if they had been two equivalent forces) called Latin American dirty wars. No, my touristic folks! Fortunately ‘Violeta’ is overall a piece of wonderful, oblique prose. A very well written (and, I’d dare to say, carefully refined by the author) story with a mature style and a peculiar form. It is as if the lost fragments of family history are painstakingly collected by the narrator, piece by piece. The writing seems to follow the winding and uncertain silhouette of an incomplete memory. This is when Alzheimer’s becomes much more than an individual illness, achieving the rank of a social, political trauma.
‘Violeta’ seems symptomatic of a recent tendency in Latin American literature to conjure narrators who don’t know their family past and who, through detailed research unearth their link with political history. These narrators make us think wonder who did what to who in our own families. Find out who named us and why.
I liked very much the poetical structure of Del Castillo’s prose, its unfinished syntax, as synthetic as suggestive, easily skipping from one level to other. I also liked the dynamic dialogues, or lyrical fragments of dialogues, emerging among the stream of narration slightly in a way reminiscent of Lobo Antunes. In this story, the Spanish language works as like a secret code which the family hasn’t told to the protagonist, and which he fights to learn by himself. It’s worth pointing out here how, as far as I know, at least another one among the Brazilian authors selected by Granta (J. P. Cuenca) was in a similar situation with his Argentinean father. As if the new Brazilian writers had faced their cosmopolitan condition not thanks to, but in spite of, their literary fathers.
The most urgent problem posed here is how to remember with an impoverished memory. The deep melancholia invoked by the narrator has nothing to do with the typical saudade. It is not simply the fact of missing what has gone. But the painful lack of what never happened to us, of what we didn’t see. That’s more or less, I suspect, what poetry can be. A hole in our vision. A ‘silent laughter’.
Inside that hole, behind that silence, we still can hear the noise of those death flights. Del Castillo’s brief and terrifying description, reappearing across the second half of the text, sounds just like an unending fall. Too fast to be forgotten, too cruel to be forgiven.