Book Notes: Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness

This is Castellanos Moya’s most famous book (translated into a crapton of languages, by the way), and deservedly so. There is a million reviews, and they all say that the novel is about the genocide of Mayans committed by the Guatemalan military during the civil war.

What the reviews never mention, for some reason, is that the novel not only describes the outlandish horrors of that war but it’s also Castellanos Moya’s funniest book. A couple of times, a friend or a student would spot me at a coffee shop or in my office howling with laughter.

“What are you reading?” they’d ask.

“Ah, it’s a novel about the genocide of the indigenous in Guatemala,” I’d reply, wiping off tears of laughter, and people would give me weird looks. And I know it sounds like an impossible task to bring together, in such a short book, the atrocity of the war and some of the funniest pages Castellanos Moya has ever written. But that’s why he’s a genius, he can do that.

I’m thinking of assigning this book in my English-language Hispanic civ course. Sainz Borgo’s novel is going on the syllabus for sure, but what about Senselessness? I’d spend 30 minutes on the first day of class trigger-warning everybody away from the course (it tends to be overenrolled anyway). And I’d collect signatures under a document that they’ve been forewarned about graphic scenes of extreme violence, including of the sexual nature.

What do you, folks, think? I want to teach this novel. But it’s hardcore. Like in Hispanic hardcore, not US hardcore. Real hardcore. We read this kind of stuff routinely as undergrads but these days nobody does anything more challenging than some weepy Chicano Bildungsroman or other.

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