March 29, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Clear 16°C
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Bios & Memoirs


Open City

What's most impressive about Teju Cole's debut is its modulated darkness.

Never Love a Gambler

Irish writer Keith Ridgway is beautifully uncompromising in his pitch-perfect thug chronicles.

Scenes From Village Life

Amos Oz's interlocking stories are parables for a brilliant, haunted nation.

The Third Policeman

Irishman Flan O'Brien managed to introduce Disney to Swift in a comic vision of death.

Leaving the Atocha Station

Ben Lerner's 2011 debut set a fine tone for postmodern irony, but it grows repetitive.

The Underground Man

Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer endures as a detective ahead of his time.

There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's brilliant stories eviscerate families seeking Communist-era roofs.

I Refuse

In a novel with autobiographical hues, Norwegian Per Petterson considers friendship and lost time.


The Book of My Lives

Aleksandar Hemon's poignant memoir falters when family tragedy becomes its focus.

Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal

American writer Michael Mewshaw generously recalls Gore Vidal and his tumultuous times.

The Dream of My Return
By Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
New Directions, 2015. 136 pages

Manic journalist Erasmo Aragón is a Salvadoran exile in Mexico City finally ready go home "to jumpstart my life." If only his liver didn't ache, his companion didn't cheat, and his all-encompassing paranoia didn't get the better of him at every hung-over turn. When anxiety-addicted Erasmo is deprived of his favorite doctor, he turns to semi-retired Don Chente, a holistically-inclined teller of anecdotes and riddles who eventually tempts him into hypnosis, which, because Erasmo has no idea what he's said in the sessions, triggers panic attacks and intimations of conspiracy — each one sure to unfold because the sexually repressed, vodka tonic-swigging Erasmo is mentally motoring "at a million miles a minute."

Salvadoran Moya is a talisman when it comes to making lurid fun of those who endured his country's bloody 1980s, with its military death squads and family feud-like ideological duplicity. Erasmo dreams of returning home, yes, but he's already made up both past and future in his zany head, extrapolating from his "condition," which is the malady of borrowed trauma and alcohol-fueled hysteria. "I suffered from a horrifying lack of control over my emotions," says Erasmo, a "seriously unhinged" master of mental contortions who at one point taps the services of a putative assassin named Mr. Rabbit.

This almost festive terror and its Freudian percolations come to roost in a cruelly hilarious novel that makes drama-king Erasmo's "morbid dynamic of self-reproach" into a literary weapon. Moya demonstrates a skill his Latin counterparts César Aira and Roberto Bolaño (in his shorter works) have shown time and again: transforming a seemingly miniature character study into a widely affecting parable.

Reviewed by Book Staff
Day and Boarding International High School in the Heart of Rome

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