BOOKS AND THE CULTURE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN chapters 23 and 30 of Book I of Don Quijote de la Mancha begins the modern novel. Or so I am told by a professional Cervantista. It is in chapter 30 that Sancho’s ass, stolen seven chapters earlier, reappears, and with no attempt to explain its reappearance. Critics and readers demanded an explanation, and literary orthodoxy won the day. A second edition included some 200 additional words explaining precisely how Sancho’s mount was returned. Cervantes’ suggestion or did he simply forget a paragraph that the reader do his part in the creative process was ill-received. A caveat to readers of Sergio Ramirez’s To Bury Our Fathers: come prepared to do your work. This is collaborative fiction. Come prepared, also, for a variation on what has become a typically Latin American genre the novel of the dictator. In many such works, presidentgenerals, omniscient and omnipotent, are made to conform with reality by reworking them into characters in myths and fables. Within these literary forms they are more believable, their powers better understood. Some have argued that only as archetypes, or fabulous composites, can the caudillo be approached. Not so with Ramirez. His novel is built upon the bedrock of history embellished but never exaggerated. And part of what makes his novel work is the dispassionate voice, usually in the third person, that tells the stories of a people stultified by the quotidian terror imposed by two generations of military dictators. Though never so named, these are obviously the men of the family Somoza. And the story is so firmly fixed in Nicaragua that it is helpful if the reader brings a map. iTe Dio Miedo La Sangre? \(Did the Louis Dubose, a frequent Observer contributor, is a freelance writer living in Austin. published in Caracas in 1977 while Ramirez lived in exile in Costa Rica. English title is taken from the author’s epigraph, a passage from The Birds by Aristophanes. In the novel Ramirez tells six related stories, working and reworking themes, such as revolution, TO BURY OUR FATHERS: A NOVEL OF NICARAGUA By Sergio Ramirez Readers International, 1984 P.O. Drawer E Columbia, LA 71418 253 pp., $14.95. exile, and retribution, all the stuff of good fiction. But powerful themes do not a novel or a revolution make, and it is precisely here that Ramirez succeeds so well. His novel is largely anecdotal, small stories told by small people. On afternoons in a decadent nightclub that is slowly being swallowed by the waters of Lake Managua, a barkeeper and a musician remember their lives. Two-thirds of the club’s musical trio are gone, one senselessly stabbed to death, the other gone into political exile in Guatemala. Their single record sits in a sleeve behind the bar. They own no record player. And just who was the greatest guitarist in Nicaragua? Ah, but what might have been. A young man travels to Guatemala to bring home a father that he no longer remembers. “The news is,” relates the wife who has supported the old man and his revolutionary schemes by what she earned at the family bakery, La Opositora, “that he has died in Guatemala . . . And he always wanted to come back to Nicaragua, alive or dead.” Dressing his father in a Guatemala City morgue, the son is bewildered by streaks of purple and red dye and starch, staining the old man’s fingers. As a member of Nicaragua’s national guard, his father had a hand in the execution of General Agusto C6sar Sandino and later became a revolutionary known throughout Central America. But in his later years, the son discovers, the old man supported himself and a new family by making and selling pinatas. Sitting in a brothel, a prostitute swears that the Panamanian millionaire she left standing at the altar years before still comes in his private plane each Saturday to beg her to reconsider, to go to Collin with him. But she would rather laugh at life or return to her parents who write tearful letters forgiving all mistakes. She will remain at Lasinventura’s, a brothel outside Guatemala City, frequented by few except a handful of Nicaraguan exiles. It is here that they lure Catalino Lopez, a Nicaraguan military officer attending the 1957 funeral of the assassinated president-general of Guate-. mala, Carlos Castillo Armas. Ramirez develops most characters well and in a style we have come to recognize as distinctly Latin American, including several eccentrics so richly portrayed and fecund that they might sprout mushrooms. There is an aged foreign-educated doctor, perennial opposition candidate for the presidency. When he returned from the Charcot de la Saletrier Hospital, he began performing the first modern surgery ever witnessed in Nicaragua. After his French wife dies he retires to a small room full of urns filled with malignant tumors, the viscera of famous men, and the “extraordinary colossal brain of [Nicaraguan Poet] Ruben Dario.” To groups of uniformed schoolchildren the old man would point out “the convolution of Broca, where the spirit of the muses had been located.” After his election victory is stolen from him, “his supporters swelled by every patient who came round from an operation,” the old man goes mad, dons a presidential sash, repeats daily his acceptance speech in the Market at Masaya. There is the old man’s son, who founds the first Lions Club in Nicaragua. After years of failure at medical school he is ordered home to open a pharmacy across the street from his father’s medical practice. He marries poorly to defy the old man, for the same reason becomes a loyal supporter of the regime, traveling to the capital “to attend banquets in honor of el hombre without anyone being aware that he was there, squashed as he invariably was at the end of a table in the midst of departmental delegations of tax inspectors and primary school teachers, who could never get enough to eat.” In the Shadow of the Dictators By Louis Dubose 26 JANUARY 11, 1985
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