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Monday, November 19, 2012

A Storyteller of Guatemala

Roberto Moulun is a former psychiatrist who was born in Guatemala, but now lives in Mexico.  He has been highly praised as an oral storyteller.  Kirkus has a wonderful review of his anthology The Iguana Speaks My Name which was published this September.  These were good reasons for me to select this book from Net Galley.  My review is below.

This book has the style and verve of performance poetry.  It also has the allusions to art and literature that are a characteristic of literary fiction.  It has a strong sense of place.  I also liked the fact that people living on the margins of society were central to these stories. These are the assets  of  The Iguana Speaks My Name.  

I do have criticisms.  Firstly, I don't think the narrator, Quince, is a clearly defined character.  His voice  often sounds like it should be the author's, but it was evidently Moulun's intention that he should be a separate persona.  Who is he?  What is his history?  I'm not entirely sure.  This is problematic because he's a somewhat unreliable narrator at times.  So it would be useful to understand more about his perspective and motivations.  The biggest clue that I found is that Quince calls St. Francis de Paula (also known as St. Francis de Paola), his patron saint.  This connects Quince to Moulun.  In the interview with Moulun by Ed Tasca, Roberto Moulun is shown to be an animal activist.  In the title novella, there is the incident of Quince and the iguana that indicates animal activism. Yet his choice of patron saint also shows compassion for animals. According to Blog Post About The Feast of St. Francis de Paola , this saint was a vegan.  Should Quince be more differentiated from the author?

 I also felt that some of the stories seemed like fragments, and that the novella was more episodic than coherent in its structure. 

Despite these weaknesses,I enjoyed the magical realist element which included seances that were apparently genuine.  Now that's refreshing. Fake seances have become a cliche in the mystery/suspense genre, and I am so very tired of them.

 I  also very much enjoyed the cultural content.  From the story "The Novena to San Martin", I learned about the existence of the first Black saint in the Americas.  (See St. Martin de Porres on the African American Registry) It interested me that an altar image of St. Martin de Porres is a Black man holding a broom.  This is because he originally did the sweeping at the Dominican monastery. My research revealed that in Voodoo Baron Samedi, Lord of the Dead, is associated with St. Martin de Porres.  Yet the fact that he is accompanied by a broom led me to wonder why African-Diasporic practitioners in  Cuba, Puerto Rico and Brazil wouldn't associate St. Martin de Porres with the African Diasporic spirit of healing, Babalu-Aye/ Omolu who uses a broom for purification. 

Finally, I have a technology note. When I write about anthologies, I rely on the table of contents to assist me.  I can refresh my memory about a particular story by accessing it directly via the table of contents.  Since it lists all the titles, the table of contents also helps me to group stories by theme or tone.  Unfortunately, the Kindle version of The Iguana Speaks My Name that I downloaded from Net Galley has no table of contents at all.  This makes it more difficult to navigate and more difficult to review.


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