High-octane paranoia deranges a writer and fuels a dangerous plan to return home at the tail end of El Salvador's long civil war. Is the plan a dream or a nightmare? Is he courageous, foolhardy, or just plain dumb? Is the bubbling brew of horrors and threats actual or imagined?
The brilliance of Mr. Castellanos Moya’s new novel, easily his best to appear in English so far, lies in how steadfastly it refuses to deploy those old tricks. In fact it often seems like a meditation on that refusal, edging toward the fantastic and then pulling back to offer credible ways — a bad hangover, a lost memory — to explain its characters’ disorientation. The result is a superbly flexible work: realistically enough plotted to ask for our whole involvement in its story, yet still full of the moments of slippage and dissociation that magical realism is so adept at evoking ... Erasmo obsesses primarily over his own problems, in flights of neurosis, fluidly translated by Katherine Silver, that are more reminiscent of the funny, self-loathing heroes of Philip Roth and Ralph Ellison than of any grimmer Latin American antecedent ... It has the intense aliveness of great fiction, the kind that gives human particularity to circumstances for which our sympathy might otherwise remain mostly notional.
His latest novel, The Dream of My Return, presents in compact and indelible form his tricks, his daring, his disgust, his humor ... Moya is a bold and accomplished craftsman. The Dream of My Return is told in the first-person past tense. The vocabulary and phrasing fit Erasmo perfectly, just as the rambling, pages-long paragraphs accord with the obsessive sequences of self-questioning and out-of-control mental wandering he succumbs to in his reflections. Everything is clear ... The new novel is a character study of one of the demoralized and still half-obtuse victims of past turbulence. Erasmo is unusually screwed up. What animates him is a sourceless conviction that going home again will remake him.
Deceptively brisk, and narrated in claustrophobic prose, the novel serves as a devastating corrective to the romanticism the 'Bolaño myth celebrates. Packed with poisonous observations about the hypocrisy of players on both ends of the political spectrum, it’s a slender tour-de-force: a rich, complex, beautifully crafted act of ventriloquism whose brevity belies its range ... each step forward occasions a leap back into its protagonist’s history, so the action becomes psychological ... Readers who prefer discrete scenes and a clear sense of advancing action might find themselves bogging down in Castellanos Moya’s prose ... Yet the manic intensity of Castellanos Moya’s prose yields the same pleasure as Thomas Bernhard’s, a clear influence...and the shift at the end of the narrative recalls the shift at the end of Imre Kertész’s Kaddish for a Child Not Born.