Guatemala/Latin America

Review: Monkey Boy- Francisco Goldman-336pp. Grove Press. £14.99.

 “As centuries of dictators have known, an illiterate crowd is the easiest to rule; since the craft of reading cannot be untaught once it has been acquired, the second-best recourse is to limit its scope.”

— Alberto Manguel

Reading has a history. But how can we recover it?’

Robert Darnton

“For the desire to read, like all the other desires which distract our unhappy souls, is capable of analysis. It may be for good books, for bad books, or for in different books. But it is always despotic in its demands, and when it appears, at whatever hour of day or night, we must rise and slink off at its heels, only allowing ourselves to ask, as we desert the responsibilities and privileges of active life, one very important question — Why? Why, that is, this sudden passion for Pepys or Rimbaud? Why turn the house upside down to discover Macaulay’s Life and Letters? Why will nothing do except Beckford’s Thoughts on Hunting? Why demand first Disraeli’s novels and then Dr Bentley’s biography?

Virginia Woolf on Sir Thomas Browne

But who shall be the master? The writer or the reader?

 —Denis Diderot, Jacques le fataliste et son maître, 1796

“The Bishop Gerardi case, it showed Guatemalans that what they had thought was impossible and which usually is impossible could be done, that you could get justice for a crime like that in a country where – of complete impunity, where state crimes always go unpunished. And the courage of that prosecutor and the young people who investigated that day is like nothing I have ever seen or witnessed in my life. It is – it was the great honour of my life to be close to them and to work with them for so many years”.

Francisco Goldman

In our country, the truth has been twisted and silenced. Discovering the truth is painful, but it is, without doubt, a healthy and liberating action.

Msgr. Juan Gerardi, Never Again, xxiv.

In his book The History of Reading, the writer Alberto Manguel makes the following pertinent and insightful comment “We all read ourselves and the world around us in order to glimpse what and where we are. We read to understand, or to begin to understand. We cannot do but read. Reading, almost as much as breathing, is our essential function”.

I am sure Francisco Goldman would agree with that sentiment because his latest book is written in the spirit of that comment. Monkey Boy is not an orthodox autobiography. The author employers an alter ego, Francisco Goldberg, much like the writer Philip Roth and many others do to examine certain aspects of his or her life with great effect. This type of autobiographical novel should not be seen as a “dying genre” but is, in reality, a form of writing that seeks to make sense not only the life of a writer but their place in the world, and through his or her book, we can begin to understand our place in the world. A great man once said, “Art is the Cognition of Life.[1]

Goldman is fond of Marcel Proust, saying, “Proust wrote in his novel that a man, during the second half of his life, might become the reverse of who he was in the first.” The reader should take this on board when reading this book, and it is their first clue on how to approach this excellent book.

The real narrator of “Monkey Boy” is course, Francisco Goldman. Goldman mixes fiction and fact to great effect in this novel autobiography. He is a seriously gifted and thoughtful writer, and like all high-level works of literature, his book works on many different levels. Monkey Boy is an open dialogue with its readers. The book poses the question, “who shall be the master? The writer or the reader?

Goldman believes there should be a dialectical relationship between author and reader, and the reader for him is not just a passive bystander. Goldman does his utmost to de-mystify the writing process saying, “Sometimes people want to mystify where novels come from, but often novels come from the most obvious source, simply what the writer is most persistently thinking about”.

Goldman thinks about many things, and it is gratifying that in this age of instant gratification and the rise of inane videos produced by the TikTok generation, someone spends so much time trying to raise people’s intellectual level.


By any stretch of the imagination, Goldman had a really bad childhood. He was the son of a Jewish father and a Guatemalan mother, and his early life was spent in the predominantly working-class area of Boston. The novel depicts his own experiences, including being physically assaulted by his dad and being physically and verbally abused at school.

The title of the book stems from these disturbing experiences. As Goldman explains, “I chose it as the title because part of the source of the book was that I wanted to go back and look at some very difficult years, my childhood and adolescence. You know, a couple of years ago, I had a fellowship at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge, which brought me back up to Massachusetts for the first time in years. And I got together with some of my old high school friends, people who played on that sophomore football team that you read about in the book. And one of them laughed and said to me, oh, yeah, I remember now. Everybody used to say you look like a monkey. And it sort of came back to me there, you know, that how much of my childhood and youth had been sort of shaped by these kinds of nicknames, which, you know, we can interpret in so many different ways in the course of the book”.[2]

I suppose you could say that Goldman is lucky in one sense in that being such an outstanding writer, he has been able to understand his terrible childhood and, through writing about it, come to terms with it. Many people, including myself, are not that lucky. Not that I had a terrible childhood far from it, but I was on the receiving end of a bully at secondary school, much like most people are. The bully made children’s lives hell until he picked on the wrong guy who battered him. His bullying days were abruptly ended. The most perverse aspect of this story is that he tried to befriend me on Friends Reunited a long while back. I was tempted to meet him and give him another beating or hire someone bigger than me to do it, but I turned him down. I am, after all, a civilised human being.

This book is an easy read primarily because Goldman is such a good writer. But it would be a mistake to believe that this is an easy book to understand. While an uninformed reader would still get a lot out of the book, you need to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the history and political situation in Latin America, particularly Guatemala, which is an important part of Goldman’s life.

Guatemala is a rich and beautiful country, but it is a hell hole for most of its people. It is one of the world’s unequal countries, with most of its people being socially and politically disenfranchised. As Angelina Godoy points out in her book,[3] “Guatemala has the seventh-highest degree of income inequality in the world, and the highest in Latin America … Some 83 per cent of the population – and 90 per cent of the indigenous population – lives in poverty. And although most Guatemalans are poor, regardless of their ethnicity, the socioeconomic exclusion of the country’s indigenous – mostly Mayan – majority by the ladino minority has led to an especially notable disconnect between the few fairer-skinned elites who control the bulk of the county’s resources and the mostly indigenous masses who toil in its fields and factories. Yet just as peasants often cultivate subsistence plots on the sides of volcanoes, the country’s social and economic structure is pitched atop these unstable relations of mass exclusion. Like the land that occasionally rumbles beneath Guatemala’s feet, the nation they have constructed atop this precarious social scaffolding has been prone to periodic eruptions of brutal violence”.

The Art of Political Murder

Goldman’s book, The Art of Political Murder, is a masterpiece of journalistic investigation and writing. Its writing and publication came close to getting him killed, and Goldman received several death threats. For much less, the Guatemalan death squads have killed many journalists and political figures.

“The Art Of Political Murder” is about the assassination of Juan Gerardi, a bishop and human rights activist. Goldman explains why he was killed “Because the army and the guerrillas in the peace accords – the army were the victors. The guerrillas were, you know, a very defeated force that was pulled into the peace accords and wanted to survive. They decided that there would be no accounting for the war’s crimes, a war in which 200,000 civilians have been killed, that there be complete amnesty. And Bishop Gerardi already knew that that was not the way forward, that a country cannot have peace with that kind of incredible crimes against humanity going unaddressed and unforgiven.[4]

This search for justice for the oppressed animates Goldman’s book. As he writes, ” There are many reasons I wanted to go back and write about this time in my life. One is I was thinking about, you know, the kinds of hierarchies I place on myself, right? Without a doubt, the – such a formative experience, the most formative period of my life, was the time I spent in my 20s covering the wars of Central America Guatemala, writing my first novel. But, you know, being so close to that, you know, was, in fact, a genocide, a terrible, terrible war. The way that that takes centrality in your life, every time you sit down to write, you think, well, you know, really, that is the key experience. I owe that yet again to go back there and find more meaning from that.[5]

The Art of Political Murder is now a documentary film showing on HBO. It has been produced by Academy Award winners George Clooney and Grant Heslov. I have included a discussion with the author and the director shown on Youtube. Goldman fully collaborated with this excellent documentary and said, “it is kind of amazing that a prosecutor had the guts and gumption to pursue the evidence. And they convicted three members of the military for the killing, and probably those who ordered it still were never brought to justice”.

According to Goldman, the exact figure of how many people were killed during this investigation is unknown. But at least ten potential witnesses were killed. The younger brother of the chief prosecution lawyer was found tortured and murdered in 2006. According to Goldman, “They had torn a leg off while he was still alive”.What worries you is that they can go after people close to you. My wife loved Guatemala, but I had to tell her: ‘You will never set foot there again”.

Goldman believes the Guatemalan elite is drenched in the blood of hundreds of thousands of people, along with its partner in crime, Yankee imperialism. Goldman is one of the few internationally recognised writers who has written about this genocide. The indigenous population has received hundreds of years of colonial and imperialist exploitation and death. Even today, 80 per cent live under the official poverty line. The plunder of Guatemala as a platform for cheap labour and natural resources by transnational corporations continues today. The country has been turned into a militarised concentration camp to benefit Guatemalan and American capitalism.

While the book is predominantly about Goldman coming to terms with the political choices, the book delves into a lot of his personal life. Many important women play a crucial role in his personal and political development. His mother, of course, plays a central role and numerous girlfriends, most of whom seem to be beautiful and a lot younger than Goldman. He seems to have an uncanny knack for attracting beautiful young women into his life. Goldman’s personal life is not without tragedy. Losing his wife Aura Estrada, who died in a bodysurfing accident in Mexico in 2007, was a devastating loss written about in the brutally honest book Say Her Name[6]. The book reminded me of Isabel Allende’s book about her daughter Paula.[7]

I fully recommend this book and hope it gets the wide audience it deserves. Let us hope Hollywood does a good job when it buys the rights. The book undoubtedly gives us a deep insight into this extremely rare and gifted writer. Perhaps more importantly, it gives you a political and historical understanding of the country that is a big part of who Goldman is.


Guatemala as a National Crime Scene: Femicide and Impunity in Contemporary U.S. Detective Novels Susana S. Martínez DePaul University, Journal of Interdisciplinary Feminist Thought, Vol. 3, Iss. 1 [2008], smartine@depaul.ed

“The Divine Husband and the Creation of a Transamericana Subject.” Latino Studies. Vol. 11, no. 2 (Summer): 190 – 207.

“Jewish characters, subalternity, and the rewriting of the foundational narrative in Francisco Goldman’s The Divine Husband,” presented at “Returning to Babel:Jewish Latin American Experiences and Representations,” University of Nebraska – Lincoln; April 19.

“Discovering Her: Gender and Truth in Francisco Goldman’s The Long Night ofWhite Chickens,” presented at the Latin American Studies Associate Annual Congress; May 24; Chicago, IL

Understanding Francisco Goldman (Understanding Contemporary American Literature) by Ariana E. Vigil (Author) Ariana E. Vigil is an associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of War Echoes: Gender and Militarisation in U.S. Latina/o Cultural Production.

About the Author

Francisco Goldman is the author of Say Her Name (2011), winner of the Prix Femina Etranger, and of The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle 2014, was awarded the Premio Azul in Canada. His first novel, The Long Night of White Chickens, was awarded the American Academy’s Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction. His novels have been finalists for several prizes, including The Pen/Faulkner and the International IMPAC Dublin literary award. The Art of Political Murder won The Index on Censorship T.R. Fyvel Book Award and The WOLA/Duke Human Rights Book Award. In December 2020, the documentary film of that book will be shown on HBO. He has received a Cullman Center Fellowship, a Guggenheim, a Berlin Prize, and was a 2018-19 Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He was awarded a 2018 PEN Mexico Award for Literary Excellence. He co-directs the Premio Aura Estrada and teaches one semester at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times, The Believer, and numerous other publications. Monkey Boy, his latest novel, is out now from Grove Atlantic. Francisco lives with his wife Jove and their daughter Azalea in Mexico City.[8]



[3] Popular Injustice: Violence, Community, and Law in Latin America Paperback – 15 May 2006 by Angelina Godoy



[6] Say Her Name Hardcover – 1 Aug. 2011-by Francisco Goldman  (Author)

[7] The Aura Estrada Prize is awarded biannually with the intention of honoring aspiring female writers like Aura who are under 35, write in Spanish, and live in either Mexico or the United States.


Review: Sleeping with the Light On by David Unger • Illustrations by Carlos Aquilera-Groundwood Books Ltd, Canada (10 Nov. 2020)

David Unger’s new book is an intelligent, tender and an extremely readable account of two children growing up in civil war-torn  Guatemala in the early 1950s. Sleeping with the Light according to the author is based on one of the titles included in the book of short stories Ni chicha ni limonada, which he published in 2009 with the Guatemalan publishing house F&G Editores.

Seen through the eyes of young Davico and his older brother Felipe they witness the United states inspired coup d’etat which took place in Guatemala in 1954. The military coup which overthrew the democratically elected Arbenz government paved the way for the Central American country to become a staging ground for numerous counterrevolutionary operations carried out by the United States and its secret service organisation the CIA throughout Latin America.

The elected government of Arbenz had tried to initiate a limited amount of agrarian reforms but were opposed by the US and the politically influential United Fruit Company who controlled most the country.

Throughout the 70s and 80s writes Jeffrey St. Clair the then Guatemalan president Ríos Montt said “We do not have a policy of scorched earth,” he sneered. “We have a policy of scorched communists.”

The fact that David Unger feels the need to write about this in 2020 is not because this very dark chapter in Guatemalan history is a closed book but unfortunately is very much alive in the thoughts of millions of Guatemalans at home and millions of Latin Americans who suffered similar fates in their own countries. Themes addressed in Unger’s book are also addressed by a new generation of Guatemalan and Latin American writers.

According to one writer “The CIA and other US agencies still refuse to declassify documents containing information ranging from the identity of individuals responsible for these crimes against humanity to the actual location of secret prisons and mass graves”.

Unger’s storyline is deceptively and deliberately simple, but it would be a mistake of the reader to believe that this just a simple tale of childhood. To a certain extent, David attempts to come to terms with his own childhood experiences. The book David will forgive saying is part if not all, autobiographical. If this is the case, then he follows in the footsteps of all great writers in drawing from a part of their own life experiences in order to write their stories

The book in which each chapter begins beautifully illustrated by the Mexican writer and illustrator Carlos Aquilera Unger deals with several pressing political and social issues. Unger deals with the very real problem of racism and immigration. Before and during the Second World War several German immigrants were forced to leave both Germany and the United States. In one part of the book, the Father of the boys said he did not leave Germany to die like a dog in Guatemala.

Recently I asked David about the book in a very good interview he said “Sleeping With the Light On is based on a short story entitled “La Casita,” that appeared in my 2009 book Ni chicha, ni limonada (F y G Editores). I took this sweet autobiographical tale and enlarged it into a chapter book. The major themes of the book deal with family conflicts, war and loss, but since it is for children 6-9, these themes are introduced and dealt with gently. As to your second question: I am not a career writer, so I only write when I have something to say—I published my first novel at age 52. When an idea or a character gets a hold of me, that is when I begin to write. It has not happened in five years because I have nothing to say. This awful covid pandemic, I would say, has almost rendered me mute”.

Let us hope this gifted writer is not rendered mute for too long. The Spanish version of this book will appear soon. I believe it can be purchased in Sophos in Guatemala let us hope it can be published throughout Europe and Latin American soon. It can be purchased on Amazon in the UK.
About the Author:

David Unger was born in Guatemala City in 1950 and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Price of Escape (Akashic Books, 2011), Para mi, eres divina (Random House Mondadori, Mexico, 2011), Ni chicha, ni limonada (F & G Editores, Guatemala, 2009; Recorded Books, 2010) and Life in the Damn Tropics (Wisconsin University Press, Plaza y Janes (Mexico, 2004), Locus Press (Taiwan, 2007). He has translated sixteen books into English, including works by Nicanor Parra, Silvia Molina, Elena Garro, Barbara Jacobs, Mario Benedetti and Rigoberta Menchu. He is considered one of Guatemala’s major living writers even though he writes exclusively in English.

Interview With Guatemalan Writer David Unger

I have followed the work on David Unger for nearly two decades. His new book is out in early November. Called Sleeping with the Light I will review it at a later date. Carlos Velez Aguilera beautifully illustrates the book. As a prelude to publication, I interviewed David about his work and a bit about the new book.

1.Tell me how you began to write. What drew you to writing?

There is no simple answer to this. When we left Guatemala, I was four, and my parents insisted we speak English, a totally new language to me when we arrived in an Anglo culture that was completely foreign. I learned early to develop counter-narratives to the realities all around me. When I read A.E. Houseman and Dylan Thomas in high school, on my own, I realized I could use language as a vehicle for expressing what I was feeling and visualizing. That is when I gave up wanting to become an engineer. I dedicated 30 years to writing poetry and translating before I published my first novel in 2002.

2 Would it be fair to say that Garcia Marquez influenced your work? What do you make of  “ Magical Realism”? Do you believe Latin American authors are still influenced by it?

I loved reading No One Writes to the Colonel and One Hundred Years of Solitude, two of the most important novels in the contemporary Latin American literary canon. I met Gabo briefly on various occasions and even published a long essay about our strange encounters. When I was in high school, I read almost every novel John Steinbeck ever wrote and soon thereafter, read many Graham Greene and Ian Fleming novels, oddly enough. I loved the Magical Realist moments in Gabo’s work, but I was not so enamoured by the efforts of notable followers like Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie and even Toni Morrison. There followed many writers who thought that the stranger the imagery, the more imaginative the writing. I guess I prefer novels with strong characters that have the historical grounding to those novels of literary fancy, flight or invention.

3.Marquez would mostly consult with historians when writing do you see this as a good or bad thing? Do you use historians or their work when planning a new project? 

Most of my novels are set in a recognizable social, political and historical context: Life in the Damn Tropics depicts a middle-class Jewish family in Guatemala of the 80s during the darkest period of the armed conflict; The Price of Escape takes place in Puerto Barrios (an awful port city) in the late 30s and confronts the monstrosity of the United Fruit Company and World War II; The Mastermind is my riff on Guatemala City in 2009 when lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg accused President Colum, in a pre-recorded tape, of killing him when, in fact, he orchestrated his own death. I read a lot of history to establish the right context for the stories I tell, but in the end, I am more interested in how my characters mostly muddle their way through challenging times. I am mostly interested in transformation, shitty characters being redeemed.

4 There appears to be a good crop of new writers from Latin America, including some new Guatemalan writers like Eduardo Halfon. I liked his book Mourning which is an attempt by a new generation of young writers to deal with or understand Guatemala’s bloody history. What do you make of them?

You have picked a talented writer in Halfon. His short stories and short novels are intertwined with his own biography and thus his childhood in Guatemala and his Jewish ancestry are constant themes. There are other writers such as Denise Phe-Funchal and Javier Mosquera Saravia, both of whom I have translated, who explore Guatemalan realities in a highly personal, but no less authoritative point of view. And then there are masters like Rodrigo Rey Rosa and Augusto Monterroso who have achieved international acclaim. Most writers, excepting Mosquera and Phe-Finchal, have written their best work outside of Guatemala, which is not a very hospitable country. The daily murders and corruption are huge obstacles for writers seeking tranquillity and distance to write effectively.

5 Tell me a little about your new book. Where did you get the idea from? Tell me a little about the writing process, i.e. how do you work as an author.

Sleeping With the Light On is based on a short story entitled “La Casita,” that appeared in my 2009 book Ni chicha, ni limonada (F y G Editores). I took this sweet autobiographical tale and enlarged it into a chapter book. The major themes of the book deal with family conflicts, war and loss, but since it is for children 6-9, these themes are introduced and dealt with gently. As to your second question: I am not a career writer, so I only write when I have something to say—I published my first novel at age 52. When an idea or a character gets a hold of me that’s when I begin to write. It hasn’t happened in five years because I have nothing to say. This awful covid pandemic, I would say, has almost rendered me mute.

6 Could you tell me any future writing projects? If this is a bit hush-hush ignore this question.

Nothing hush-hush about my new project. I am doing a retranslation of Guatemala Nobelist Miguel Angel Asturias novel El señor presidente. It was written almost one hundred years ago, over a ten-year period when MAA was living in Europe, and is a powerful portrait of a corrupt dictator and how he tramples lives to maintain his power. It gave rise to other dictator novel’s including Garcia Marquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch; Roa Bastos’s I, The Supreme and Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat. It first appeared in 1965 translated by Francis Partridge, full of Anglicism’s and lacking the texture of Guatemala and Guatemalan life and history. Penguin Classics will be publishing my translation, with a preface by Mario Vargas Llosa, in 2022. This translation (I have translated 16 books), I hope, will be the apex of my literary life—I am grateful to be bringing this exceptional novel to new audiences and hopefully, it will spurn a reassessment of the work of Guatemala’s only Nobel Prize in Literature.
About the Author:

David Unger was born in Guatemala City in 1950 and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Price of Escape (Akashic Books, 2011), Para mi, eres divina (Random House Mondadori, Mexico, 2011), Ni chicha, ni limonada (F & G Editores, Guatemala, 2009; Recorded Books, 2010) and Life in the Damn Tropics (Wisconsin University Press, Plaza y Janes (Mexico, 2004), Locus Press (Taiwan, 2007). He has translated sixteen books into English, including works by Nicanor Parra, Silvia Molina, Elena Garro, Barbara Jacobs, Mario Benedetti and Rigoberta Menchu. He is considered one of Guatemala’s major living writers even though he writes exclusively in English.

Obituary: Joaquín Salvador Lavado, Author of “Mafalda”

“Quino died. All good people in the country and the world will mourn him,”  Daniel Divinsky, 

“We came for the vaccination against despotism, please,″  Mafalda

“I draw because I speak badly,”  Joaquín Salvador Lavado,

Joaquín Salvador Lavado, an Argentine cartoonist who was the creator of the socially aware comic strip Mafalda has died aged 88.

Mafalda was read and loved not only throughout Latin America but in Europe and beyond. The Italian writer Umberto Eco introduced Europe to Mafalda.Lavado and his creation Mafalda was one of the most international cartoonists in Spanish. Mafalda was translated into 27 languages a feat that only Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar and Ernesto Sabato all Argentine authors achieved. Mafalda has a loyal following in Finland.

Mafalda″ was first published in 1964. The Argentine had a cult following throughout his career. “Quino” was a thorn in the Argentine ruling elites side, and it was through Mafalda that he attacked them with a large dose of acerbic humour.

In an interview, he said “I do not think my cartoons are the sort that make people laugh their heads off. I tend to use a scalpel rather than tickle the ribs. I don’t go out of my way to be humorous; it’s just something that comes out of me. I’d like to be funnier, but as you get older, you become less amusing and more incisive.”[1]

Mafalda, who was only six years old, but had more political nous and wisdom than most adults. This knowledge led her to ponder the world’s problems. Her parents never really understood her. Mafalda, although from a middle-class Buenos Aires family had a keen sense that the world was full of injustice and had an eye for social and political hypocrisies and a mordant sense of humour.

The comic strip has been compared to Peanuts and Blondie, but none of these carried the political or social commentary found in Mafalda.

Through Mafalda Quino “said things that could not be said”. Mafalda was published and read during the time Argentina was under a military dictatorship the 1970s and 1980s. Although Mafalda’s social analysis was originally directed against the military junta, Mafalda has a pearl of deep wisdom that still resonates today. Lavado said “She is a girl who tries to solve the dilemma of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this world,”

The comic strip only ran for six years. Lavado said he did not miss the character when it ended saying “Even though the books continue to sell very well and people ask me for more, I think that I made the right decision when I stopped doing Mafalda, and I don’t miss her at all,″ he said.

He did relent a few times she was brought back in 1973 to promote as one writer puts it “humanitarian projects (mostly UNICEF), and focused on illustrated albums like Quinoterapia (Quinotherapy), where he broke down in comic book format the structural and personal elements that allowed inequality to persist all over the world, either with ad-absurdum of liberal concepts or by leaning into surrealist imagery — like the police shooting down protestors with Valium”.

As Lavado said in one of Mafalda cartoons shows an adult standing with Mafalda as she points to the rotating globe with a map of the world on a desk. “You’re leaving? And this? Who’s going to fix this?″. The same could be said of Lavado now that he has gone who is going to fix the world.


The Orange Hare

By Arturo Monterroso

 “I am taking it!” she said with a loud voice. I looked up. She was a bit over seventy, and he was clearly closer into falling the eighty something abyss. He walked stooping over his three-legged cane, and took a breath after telling off his wife. She was the first to raise her voice, as she was holding a stuffed rabbit tight against her bosom. The woman had resisted her husband’s reprimand, digging her heels into an attitude that I perceived as defiant because she had responded immediately.

“I am taking it,” she said again in a lower yet firm voice making a pout. She was petite, still holding some echoes of sweetness deep in her eyes. “No,” he said with a slight quiver in his voice, “I am not willing to pay a fortune for a stuffed animal that your granddaughter will not even like.” “Our granddaughter,” she quickly corrected him; “for our granddaughter who will be delighted with this bunny.” “Yes,” he replied, “a horrendous and extremely expensive, odd-colored rabbit. Have you ever seen an orange rabbit before?” “It’s a stuffed bunny, Heriberto, it’s not a real rabbit; it’s a toy,” she explained to him. “Uh-huh,” he replied, “and surely that justifies why we must pay for it as much as our electricity bill.”

The thin-bodied man was wearing a flat cap sunk down just above his eyebrows. “Well, as you wish,” she said, “you win,” and left the toy on the table from where she had taken it. Until that moment I wasn’t aware that the bookstore sold stuffed animals, and it was not precisely found in the children’s section. He made a gesture of complaisance, one made by those who think they are right. “Let’s go!” commanded to his wife (they clearly were married), “it is getting late.” “Late for what?” she asked somewhat angry. “You always think it’s late!” “Let’s go,” he said, trying to show composure. “All right!” she said loudly. “You are the boss! It’s always the same! You are the boss!” And then I lost sight of them.

I went back to reading the first page of Cartas portuguesas (this was the reason that had brought me to the bookstore’s coffee shop), but a scream got my attention and made me to look up over the book. “No!” exclaimed the old man, trying to lift the three-legged cane, clearly meaning to threaten her. The lady was holding the rabbit again and the husband was blocking her way. “No!” he repeated once again, “it’s already decided! Put that rabbit back in its place!” She looked around as her eyes were met by the few people in the cafe, and left the rabbit back on the table. Then she appeared annoyed, rolled her eyes up (maybe asking to some divinity for help in the bookstore’s ceiling), walked a couple of tired steps and reached for the man’s arm who seemed satisfied. Finally, her wife had come to her senses.

When they had disappeared among the shelves, surely on their way to the door which would definitively settle their disagreement, I went back to the Cartas de la monja portuguesa, a title in Spanish of the book that collects five letters written by sister Mariana Alcoforado, a nun who had been seduced by a count. As I pondered on the kinky circumstances and the image of the woman writing love letters under the dim candlelight of her lonely cell, I saw the woman passing in front of me who, once more, had the stuffed rabbit in her hands. I stopped thinking about the nun and paid new attention to the drama of the rabbit that, looking closer, it wasn’t a rabbit but a lanky, long-eared hare, the color of oranges; of orange oranges ¾because of course there are green and yellow oranges¾ and of a hue similar to the skin of ginger. It had a long and funny face; the hare, not the lady who, ensconced in the self-help section, was nervously and fondly squeezing the stuffed animal. Her granddaughter would surely like it. What would an old fogey know about what a little girl likes?

I asked for the check, paid the coffee, closed the book, and put it back on the self. Anyhow, the famous letters were not written by the nun, but by a Gabriel-Joseph de Guilleragues, who had been ambassador of France in Constantinople. And that small detail spoiled the erotic taste of reading the book. Besides, with all this drama of the old couple and the orange hare I had lost my concentration. I even stopped for a moment to look at a volume on sale of the complete works of the philosopher Walter Benjamin, to whom probably I am never going to read, and then continued my way out to the door. I was about to step out when I heard the woman’s voice again who, at the checkout counter, was calling to her husband while her finger was pointing at a little paper next to the hare.

Indeed, the husband’s credit card had gone through the small payment device and the man had to sign the little paper. I would never know how she had convinced him, but it was obvious that the women had won the battle. I browsed through the last illustrated edition of Vida y muerte de la pequeña Caperucita Roja (Una tragedia), by the German writer Ludwig Tieck, pretending I wasn’t interested in learning how things would unravel. I waited to see how the drama of the hare would end and, opposite to what I thought, it wasn’t a big deal after all: the old man signed the paper, took his card, and put it away in his wallet. Then he offered his arm to his wife and left the bookstore nonchalantly. She was carrying a plastic bag with her much coveted possession: the orange hare. I stayed a little bit longer in the bookstore waiting for them to walk ahead.

I caught up with them just as they were about to go down the escalator, but the couple was blocking the way because they were arguing about who would go first. It was hard to say if his three-legged cane was the reason or the bag the lady was holding which seemed impossible, or maybe it was just uncomfortable, to ride the escalator at the same time. “Heriberto,” she would say still holding his arm, “let’s wait for Gerardo to help you go down.” “Who is Gerardo?” asked the old man annoyed and with an inquisitive look. “He is your lifelong chauffeur, of course. Who else?” she replied. He seemed to ponder deeply and then asked with a frown: “Should we return it?” She replied evidently eager to pick up a fight: “Who? Gerardo?” “That rabbit, the old man answered, pointing at the plastic bag. “It’s too expensive, you know that at our age we should be saving.” “Oh, Heriberto!” she exclaimed, “shut up! I will leave you here until Gerardo comes and help you down. I am sick of you!” “I don’t need any such Gerardo to go down this simple escalator,” said the old man. “I can do it by myself.” She turned around only to realize that there was already a line of people waiting for them to end their squabble. At last, she finally let go of her husband’s arm so that he could go first on the escalator.

He took a minute to assess the elusive step each time he wanted to place his foot on the it, but then he unexpectedly went ahead, tried to grab the bag from the woman, and lost his balance. He was unable to plant his three-legged cane on the fleeting stairs, and fell on his face. He bounced several times before landing horizontally at the foot of the escalator, looking dead. It turned out he wasn’t, because when we rushed down to help him, he was still breathing, although with some difficulty. Now without the flat cap, which had flung somewhere on the floor, I was able to recognize in the pale and scrawny countenance the face of General Túnchez, one of the greatest gunrunners of the past decades. He had become a millionaire under the shadows of power, enabling smooth way to countless containers through customs avoiding taxes. Later, he had invested in all kinds of properties and in the money laundering industry. Nobody was able to prove anything. He was forever untouchable. And that is how he had reached the age of retirement and peace. Until today. All because of a harmless orange hare.

Arturo Monterroso

Nació en Guatemala en 1948. Es escritor, editor y corrector de estilo.

La libélula mecánica y el averiguad

This article is an English translation of a review of the book La libélula mecánica y el averiguador by the Guatemalan author Arturo Monterroso. The review is by Claudine Giovannoni.

A copy of the Spanish article can be found at

Ten years have passed, and Isabel and Inés have grown up: do you remember the young protagonists of the novel La Mosca Dragon?Arturo Monterroso brings us back to Guatemala, still full of political strokes, bloody attacks where drug traffickers, soldiers and those who make little money, say how to run terror.This time, the protagonist is something that resembles a small insect that looks a lot like Maruca and Enriqueta’s Dragonfly in Tecpán: its code name is Rx566SL-REAPER.

There are a thousand possibilities where even the most trivial situation might be the cause of a shootout; but following the intimidation that happened that night, Antonio, father of Inés and Isabel, decides to bring his wife Nina and his daughters for some time to Gertrudis, a relative of theirs.A week after having moved to Aunt Gertrudis’ house, Antonio and his family were invited to lunch at San Lucas in the house of the engineer lquijay, and this is where the REAPER appears during a walk in the garden of the villa.

Young engineer Manuel, Inés and Isabel’s friend, will be a valuable ally in finding out how it is made and what it is, using an electronic scanning microscope.The pungent irony of the author takes shape in the conversations of the characters where the raw Guatemaltecan reality of each day (and of many other countries) is defused. On the one hand, pretences for shooting during the festivities of a thousand different Saints, on the other hand, he can ridicule those who must support foreign technology by possessing a cell phone.

Moreover, the improvised investigator Don Ramiro, well personify sarcasm when he speaks to his young helper Amadeo. A hitman commissioned Don Ramiro to find Adelaida Prado, while Inés and Isabel are as well on Adelaida’s traces.The young anthropologist Adelaida kept hidden by Maruca and Enriqueta in Tecpán in the novel of the La Mosca Dragon, returned after years of political asylum in Mexico, in fact, she was not a subversive but was only guilty of not having accepted the advances of Cifuentes Ortega. Nevertheless, why are they looking for her again?

Then, the characters are intertwined: from American Zachary Collum, a gringo veteran, who has to leave his dog Henry in custody to someone before leaving for the United States. The poor black dog passes from hand-to-hand to finish with those of David Garrett (not the famous violinist), manager of the Jaguar Nook Restaurant, which then leaves him to Antonio, who finds himself as animal rights activist almost by accident.In the story does not go unnoticed the D2 intrigues, the Guatemalan FBI, and the dirty chores of General Cifuentes that eventually die and no one knows who murdered him.
However, the final remains a question, why would Rx566SL-REAPER be recovered? Moreover, who had driven it and with what purpose? Moreover, if it was Alfredo Nottembaum, Carlos Lahsen’s partner, and Luisa’s father-in-law? He had been funding the putsch in 1989… Moreover, he is portrayed in the photograph of the conservative members of the Coffee Club along with Carlos!

A novel to read by keeping the breath, written with sincerity and humour, in which true human values are reported as opposed to violence and crime.I like Monterroso’s style of naivety, as if it were his inner child to dictate words, knowing how to describe a variety of situations while maintaining a candid, though meticulous, language until the last detail.Even this novel is suitable as well for a young audience; I also recommend it for educational purposes as it (unfortunately) deals with situations that are always up to date… Everywhere on this planet!


Arturo Monterroso was born in Guatemala, 1948. He is a writer and journalist. He studied language and literature at the University of San Carlos and held a degree in Journalism from the Universidad Panamericana.In 1994 he published the short story book La ira oculta, and received the Novella Prize in 1995 for Piano Dark. This year, Editorial Norma published his novel for young people, The dragonfly. He has several novels, and some of his stories and articles have been translated into German and French.He received the Novella 1995 Award for Oscuridad del piano and the Award Brevísimos Dinosaurios 2009 del Centro Cultural de España, for Soy feliz. La libélula mecánica y el averiguador is his latest novel for young people.

La libélula mecánica y el averiguador can be purchased at this website
Editorial Norma– Ciudad de Guatemala , agosto 2016 ISBN 978-9929-42-210-0