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Rogelio Sinán: Plenilunio [Full Moon]

Murder and treachery are the theme of Sinán’s novel. Three people arrive to tell the narrator their tale. They are Don Céfaro, his granddaughter, Elena and a large man, whom the narrator refers to as a worker. We later learn that his real name is Miguel Camargo but has been nicknamed Mack Amargo (amargo is the Spanish for bitter) and is often known simply as El Amargo. The three of them tell their tale, often in disjointed fashion, arguing and disagreeing and interrupting one another but we learn that they have been involved in a crime but are not sure who is to blame for this crime.

Don Céfaro is of Portuguese origin. He got out of the country when he was young and went to Paris. He married but his wife died in childbirth. The child, a girl, survived. Don Céfaro moved to Panama to make his fortune and, indeed, does well out of drugs and prostitution, particularly in the Panama Canal Zone. When World War I breaks out, his daughter joins him in Panama. However, she marries a spoilt man from a well-to-do family that has fallen on hard times. Her first child dies at birth. Her second child is Elena. Don Céfaro is very attached to Elena and is very disappointed when the family goes off to Europe, as the daughter does not like Panama. Meanwhile, Don Céfaro becomes friendly with Crispín and brings him into the business. Things work out well as Don Céfaro trusts Crispín , but Crispín makes some poor investments using Don Céfaro’s money leaving Don Céfaro short of funds. When his daughter and son-in-law want some money urgently to get a much-needed operation for Elena, Don Céfaro has to mortgage his villa. He is particularly upset when he later learns from Elena, who is now living in Antwerp, that the money was, in fact, for his son-in-law to pay off his gambling debts and not for an operation. The couple are learned to have Nazi sympathies and are killed while escaping.

Meanwhile we learn more about El Amargo. His mother was a cabaret dancer. He never knew who his father was. His mother later falls for a rich man and gets pregnant and has a daughter called Camila, to whom El Amargo is very attached. (We learn early on that she has died but we do not learn how or why till much later.) El Amargo is able to get a job on the Canal and then as a chauffeur and earns enough to support both his sister and mother, who is in poor health and cannot work any more. When Don Céfaro meets one of his former prostitutes by chance in a hospital, we learn that it is El Amargo’s mother and in this way, the relationship between Don Céfaro and El Amargo is built, as El Amargo and his family live in a house owned by Don Céfaro but we also learn that Crispín has been cheating Don Céfaro.

Meanwhile World War II is approaching and Don Céfaro wants Elena to leave Antwerp and come to Panama. What he does not know is that she has fallen in love with a Dutch Communist Jewish sculptor and will not leave him. Only when the Nazis finally take Antwerp and she sees her sculptor killed by them, does she leave, with the help of an American journalist, escaping to Buenos Aires, via Genoa. Things start getting worse. Elena is not happy in Panama, missing Europe and her sculptor. We learn more of Crispín’s treachery and, to spite him, Elena accepts his offer of marriage. She finds out that he is impotent but he likes to control her and can do so when she has her fits of depression, caused particularly by the full moon, when she seems to like dancing outside in the nude. When he starts trying to control Camila, with disastrous consequences, his fate is sealed. But who did it?

Some have said that this is Panama’s best novel. I am not competent to judge that but it certainly is not a bad novel, though, sadly, it is unlikely, to be translated into English (or any other language) so, unless you read Spanish, you will be unable to find out. Sinán makes it pretty clear early on that Crispín is the bad guy, though given Don Céfaro’s record and the fact that Miguel Camargo admits to smoking dope and going with prostitutes, the others are hardly saints. We know that Crispín will suffer his fate, so the only suspense is the how and who. The latter is left in doubt, as any of the three could be guilty, but Sinán keeps us guessing as to what specific crimes Crispín will be guilty off and how he will pay the price for them.

Publishing history

First published in 1947 by Alfaguara
No English translation