Rosario Castellanos: Oficio de tinieblas (The Book of Lamentations)
The book is based in part on the Chamula Rebellion of 1867-1870 in the Mayan part of Mexico. The revolt apparently ended with the crucifixion of a young boy called Domingo and Castellanos incorporates this event in her story. Much of the story is both spent in observing the various myths and legends of the Chamula Indians, while resetting the story during the reforms of Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas which Castellanos saw for herself and which are a key in Balún-Canán (The Nine Guardians). The Cárdenas reforms of the 1930s are resisted both by the well-to-do ladinos as well as by the Chamula Indians who are suspicious of them. No-one comes out well in the story – the Indians with their blood-thirstiness and their superstitions and the ladinos with their greed but it is a book that is one of the earliest Mexican novels to give the Indians an important role and see them as humans, particularly in the character of the ilol (healer), Catalina Díaz Puiljá and, as always, Castellanos tells us a fascinating story with a poet’s insight.
First published by Joaquín Mortiz in 1962
First published in English in 1996 by Marsilio
Translated by Esther Allen