Book Notes: Castellanos Moya’s El hombre amansado

The title of Castellanos Moya’s new novel means “a tamed man.” Its protagonist, Erasmo Aragón, has been beaten down by life since we last met him in the writer’s previous novel Moronga. He’s managing to stay afloat thanks to an interest that an unsentimental Swedish woman takes in him. But once she tires of Aragón, where will he go?

This is a short novel but it took me a while to read it because even for Castellanos Moya it’s dark. Erasmo Aragón stands for Latin America, beaten, castrated, useful only as a source of powerless, terrified immigrants who can be condescended to out of short-lived pity and then cast aside when they outlive the novelty. Latin America doesn’t have a place in the world where the culture of neoliberal #MeTootery has gained dominance. As hard as Aragón tries to mutilate his sexuality to make it acceptable to the world of neoliberal puritanism, he fails. He can’t be disciplined, controlled and convenient enough to be fully acceptable to those who have control over his immigration status and financial well-being.

Castellanos Moya doesn’t blame rich countries alone for Latin America’s incapacity to amount to anything in the world. Yes, Aragón is treated like trash but he fully deserves it. His main flaw – and it’s the perennial problem of Latin America that causes it to be as irrelevant as it is – is his intense self-absorption. Aragón is so fixated on his grandiose fantasies that he never notices what’s really happening around him. He never acts. He barely even reacts. Instead, he feels victimized. And that ultimately makes him – and Latin America – boring to everybody.

Castellanos Moya is an incredible writer. I’ve been pondering why Latin America just can’t make a mark as anything but an eternal victim. Especially because of the news from the border that are getting worse and worse, I can’t stop thinking, why is it always like that? Suffering, misery, horrors, always the same, always going in a circle. And then look at the war in Ukraine. Yes, terrible suffering but then how many uplifting stories, amazing personalities, enormous solidarity from around the world. Why can’t Latin America learn to evoke admiration and not transitory pity? I’ve been thinking about this, and then I read this novel and it’s all right there, explained with clinical, hardcore honesty.

Of course, Castellanos Moya himself is a symptom of what I’m talking about here. The kind of talent he has, any other culture would manage to use it to its advantage. But he’ll never get the recognition he deserves because, like his character, he’s completely alone. I don’t want to be his unsentimental European savior but the least I can do is keep telling people about his books.

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