Lennon bajo el sol. José Adiak Montoya. Mexico: Tusquets Editores. 2017. 183 pages.
In the evolution of the Nicaraguan literature of the 21st century, José Akiak Montoya has become the most prolific author of his generation. While the author is only thirty years old, Lennon bajo el sol [Lennon under the sun] is his fourth published book, and he thereby consolidates a literary career that began to develop when, at the age of only twenty, he published Eclipse (2007), a book divided between short stories and poems.
With this new publication, José Adiak Montoya dares to narrate through historical uchronia, opposing the deceased John Lennon – pacifist icon and founder of The Beatles – with the figure of Anastasio Somoza Debayle – the last dictator of the Somoza dynasty – in order to formulate, as an author, the question: “What if John Lennon had been born and founded The Beatles in Nicaragua?”
The use of uchronia in Lennon bajo el sol is a novelty within the Nicaraguan novel because, based on one-off occurrences in the history of Nicaragua, the author proposes an alternate reality, and under this premise, the reader of this text must enter into a tactical pact with the fictional universe that Montoya proposes, because, if Lennon were born under the tropical sun of Nicaragua, later founding the most influential pop band of the 20th century in the same country, it’s more than likely that “Los Escarabajos” would have grown up reciting, like all Nicaraguan schoolchildren, the verses of Rubén Darío and Margarita Debayle.
What’s more, Los Escarabajos, having grown up under the Somoza dictatorship, have the natural fear of the repressive national guard and disdain for the Somoza family; nevertheless, as is indicated in the novel’s first chapter, when they were not yet rich and famous, Los Escarabajos would attempt to ingratiate themselves with power. Passing on tour through the colonial city of León, on express orders of General Somoza García, they are obligated to play a concert in a workers’ club. In this same social club, Somoza García would proclaim his new candidacy for the presidency. Also, on this same evening, the founder of the Somoza dynasty would die, assassinated by the poet Rigoberto López Pérez. Later, Anastasio Somoza García would die after several days of agony in Panama.
After this point, the twenty remaining chapters tell the life story of the Nicaraguan John Lennon and his gradual commitment to the fight for peace, as well as the discomfort he generates in Anastasio Somoza Debayle, Lennon’s political and pacifist activism, and the ultimate solution found through Marcos David, whose madness serves as an instrument for Somoza Debayle to end Lennon’s life.
José Adiak Montoya tells this whole story through ellipsis and analepsis, while including intertextual and paratextual winks at the songwriter of The Beatles in every chapter. One occurs in Chapter 2, which tells of the birth of Marcos David. The author titles this chapter “Hijo de la Madre Naturaleza” [Mother Nature’s Son], a paratextual resource alluding to a song by The Beatles from the White Album, which was released at the end of 1968. The novel also mentions, anecdotally, important moments from the band’s musical career, such as their first concert in the U.S.A., which the narrator titles “The Nicaraguan Invasion,” or the crucial moment of their final live concert, which they play not on the rooftop of the Apple building in London but on the Hotel Intercontinental of Managua, Nicaragua, with a panoramic view of Lake Managua.
For this very reason, while the intertextual dialogue with the world of The Beatles is fruitful, it demands that this novel’s probable reader possess a certain knowledge of John Lennon’s biography and the Beatle-verse in order to be able to notice all the references. A good example is in Chapter 7, when Lennon, only five years old, must choose between living with his father, Alfredo, a quarrelsome sailor, or his mother, Julia, a woman in an unstable economic situation: nonetheless, there is a change of scenery, since the real event took place in the coastal city of Liverpool, England, in a Europe destroyed by World War II, while in the universe that Montoya writes, Alfredo wants to take the infant Lennon to the city of Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.
Thanks to the use of these textual and paratextual resources, the novel approaches a remarkable sort of historical fanfiction. Despite the rivers of ink devoted to the stories of the mop-top kids from Liverpool, not to mention countless published theories on the Lennon-McCartney relationship – from the most absurd to the most accurate – only José Adiak Montoya uses the one-off facts of The Beatles and John Lennon to compose, thanks to the tools of literature and with a confident and ironic tone, a re-reading of the great stories of the second half of the twentieth century in Nicaragua. The author sees through the lens of disenchantment, not as an eyewitness of the great stories that the history textbooks tell in Nicaragua, with the purpose of revealing that history is composed much like the story that a writer puts down in a novel. This novel has the virtue of multiple levels of possible readings, and for this reason the author is sure to entertain more than readers absorbed in the world of The Beatles; he also succeeds in capturing the reader who is unfamiliar with this universe but knows (or is living memory) of the history of the late twentieth century in Nicaragua.
And in the end, this novel brings a burst of freshness to contemporary Nicaraguan narrative, successfully proposing an alternate reality in which art and revolution are fused in the struggle for the revindication of the oppressed, no matter the price to be paid.
Tomás Emilio Arce
University of Cincinnati