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Arturo Azuela: Manifestación de Silencios (Shadows of Silence)
Azuela’s best novel is set around the political upheavals of the 1960s/1970s in Mexico, with their repression, arbitrary arrests and torture. It follows – more or less – the story of José Augusto Banderas, a left-wing journalist. At the start of the novel, he has just killed a man. According to the police, the man was killed by a ruthless band of armed terrorists. Actually, what happened is that there was an argument about Laura, Banderas’ ex-girlfriend, who was now with this man. The man attacked Banderas with his fists. Banderas pulled out a gun and killed him. But we don’t learn this till later. Clearly influenced by Cortázar, Azuela jumps around in time, at least in the early part of the book, telling the tale not just of Banderas but of all his friends and associates including, of course, Laura, both before and after the killing. Azuela is intent on showing the results of the political situation in Mexico. It hovers around in the background, in the discussions, in how the characters see their surroundings. It also comes to the fore, not least in what happens to Banderas. But Azuela, a highly accomplished novelist, also has two other important themes. The first is the effect that Banderas has on the other characters. They talk to him and about him. He affects their lives, directly and indirectly, even when he has been absent a long time. However, there is one key character that he does not affect and that is Mexico. For this is also a city novel, with Mexico City playing an important role for the characters, both in its appearance and in its psychogeography, a term which did not exist when the novel was written. We track them around the city and they react to it.
There is a plot, which is what happens to Banderas after the killing. (He manages to escape Mexico and travels around Europe and South America, working for left-wing causes, but finally gets caught, in Edinburgh of all places.) But Azuela does not attach much importance to the plot, seeming to forget it now and then and only slipping it in when he remembers. He is concerned much more with creating an impression of the city, of Banderas and his effect on the people around him and of the effect on them all of the political situation in Mexico at the time. It really is an excellent novel and deserves to be better known .
First published by Joaquín Mortiz in 1979
First published in English in 1985 by University of Notre Dame Press
Translated by Elena C. Murray