La casa de Moravia. Miguel Huezo Mixco. Mexico City: Alfaguara, 2017. 140 pages.
The recovery of foundational and defining memories often drive narratives as a mechanism for identity reconstruction and as an instrument of reaffirmation; a means to mediate and reflect on whether what is resurrected really occurred and contains relevant meaning. This same process of recovering a buried past is a primary feature of the newest novel by the renowned Salvadoran writer Miguel Huezo Mixco, entitled La casa de Moravia [The house in Moravia], published by Alfaguara in 2017. Similar to Huezo Mixco’s previous novel Camino de hormigas [Path of ants] (2014), La casa de Moravia repeatedly transports the reader from a contemporary setting in El Salvador to the contentious period of war and conflict that swept through Central America during the early years of the 1980s. The overall tenor of the novel inserts itself thematically into a group of similar depictions that are evoked in the contemporary narratives of other contemporary Salvadoran writers such as Horacio Castellanos Moya, Claudia Hernández, and Róger Lindo. These novels also explore the layers of disenchantment with certain aspects of the revolutionary eighties as well as the challenges faced by those who participated and who currently confront the difficulties of post–war adaptation abroad and in El Salvador.
The structure of La casa de Moravia is assembled around a series of loosely collated histories that focus on the memories and reflections of an unnamed ex-revolutionary from El Salvador serving as the narrator, and his interlocutor and new lover, Lucila. Their intricate stories, elicited through extended conversation, are related in fourteen chapters that move back and forth in time, framing and juxtaposing a complex and dense story of revolutionary ideals and allegiances that characterized much of Central America during the conflicted eighties. The sense of a prevailing disillusionment serves as a thematic thread, extending from the period of war into a contemporary portrayal of post-war El Salvador.
The catalyst for the unspooling of these stories resides in the life of Samuel, another eighties revolutionary who subsequently marries Lucila after the signing of the Salvadoran Peace Accords in 1992. The skewed chronology is generated in part by the narrator’s impromptu tryst with the recently widowed Lucila, whom he meets at Samuel’s funeral. Fueled in part by Lucila’s desire to inquire into the revolutionary past of her recently deceased husband Samuel, with whom the narrator had close dealings in Costa Rica during the war years of the early eighties, fragments of both their life trajectories are amply explored. Throughout these exchanges, the reader discovers not only the inner turmoil that haunts each character but also the way in which memory filters and selects formative pieces of autobiographical memory. The erotic intensity that ensues between Lucila and the narrator catalyzes the recovery of these multiple and diverse memories from each of their perspectives about Samuel, as well as a series of intimate confessions that relate to their own lives. Throughout the encounter, as their sexual intensity loosens their inhibitions, the reader learns the ways in which their own troubling pasts have shaped their subjectivities and even their own ways of interacting with each other during their brief time together. In the course of relating their memories, a somewhat sketchy consensus emerges that indicts Samuel not only as a feckless, schizophrenic husband but also as an armchair revolutionary with an attenuated sense of commitment who was lacking in the fortitude to effectively participate in the struggle.
The novel’s continually shifting timeframes—from the 1980s to contemporary El Salvador—reveal the recurring themes of distance, cynicism, and ambiguity surrounding the faded idealism of revolutionaries in the post-war period. In sharing his memories and information about the enigmatic Samuel with Lucila, the narrator details his tenuous relationship to his fellow insurgents in the clandestine cell and its safehouse—La casa de Moravia—in San José, Costa Rica. Although unable to provide much relevant information about Samuel, the narrator’s interaction with Lucila does provide substantial details that reference the revolutionary processes of the period; the vibrancy of idealism and commitment present in Nicaragua and its contrast with Costa Rica, the importance of radio transmission as an instrument to promote solidarity, and a close look at the underground protocols of the revolutionary Casa Moravia cell. Central to the narrator’s memories of the Casa Moravia is his affective involvement with Gema, a Costa Rican militant living in the Casa de Moravia. The importance ascribed to Gema underscores and evinces a fundamental reality that swept the isthmus: a general loosening of sexual mores that coincides directly with the rise of the Central American insurgencies and the integration of women into the revolutionary processes of the period.
In many ways, the incomplete portrayal of Samuel not only functions metaphorically as a reflection of the considerable disarray that characterized the Central American revolutionary movements of the period; it also references the incomplete and fragmented knowledge of the inner-workings and trans-national coordination among the movements that is still lacking today. In this same context, Huezo Mixco’s novel, while fictional at its core, adeptly integrates historic instances and photographs—the murder of Costa Rican activist Viviana Gallardo in 1981—thereby infusing its textures with a heightened sense of historical accuracy. In this regard, the novel’s imbrication of history and fiction underlies its goal of illuminating the poorly defined spaces of the 1980s, of casting additional light on the very interstices that continue to make a thorough reconstruction of the period so problematic.
Huezo Mixco’s skills at assembling the ideologies and interpersonal complexities that converged to define the revolutionary period in Central America are formidable, and his attention to the details and atmosphere of the period are congruent and precise. The deft splicing of stories foregrounds an array of themes; ideological commitment, love, betrayal, resentment, and revenge, which are all fluently integrated, providing greater clarity to the period and its direct influence on contemporary El Salvador. As much as La casa de Moravia might be read as a nostalgic valediction to revolutionary Central America, Huezo Mixco’s novel succeeds in its evocative recovery and precise examination of the period’s diverse ambiguities and their enduring legacy in El Salvador, and in contemporary Central America at large.
University of the Ozarks
William Clary received his Ph.D from the University of Missouri in 1995. His primary field of interest and research is contemporary Central American Narrative, with an emphasis on contemporary writers from the Northern Triangle of Central America. Most recently, his work has focused on Central American post-war novels by Horacio Castellanos Moya and Rodrigo Rey Rosa. He has published articles on the novels of Miguel Ángel Asturias and Sergio Ramírez, and has recently had an article on the narrative of Honduran writer Julio Escoto accepted for publication.