One of our lead fiction titles arrived from the printer yesterday afternoon: Horacio Castellanos Moya's Dance With Snakes. Set for a September 30th release, Snakes is the fourth title in the Biblioasis International Translation Series, and certain to be one of our lead titles this fall. We expect to receive a lot of attention, especially south of the border for this one. Though Moya is well known in many parts of the world, he first came to attention in the English-speaking world last year, when New Directions published the first English-language edition of his work: the critically acclaimed novel Senselessness. An exploration of genocide and political persecution and paranoia, it ranked as one of the most brilliant and psychologically intense novels I've read in recent memory, and ranks right up there with the best of Coetzee -- especially Michael K and Waiting for the Barbarians.
Snakes is an earlier work, a macabre and violent farce, about an unemployed sociologist, Eduardo Sosa, who becomes fascinated by a homeless man in a beat up yellow Chevrolet, and through a series of unexpected events assumes his identity. The Chevrolet is home to four poisonous snakes, and together they unleash a reign of terror on the city of San Salvador.
Snakes is a high-speed romp of non-stop action, a work in which violence and comedy becomes almost indistinguishable. It raises provocative questions about social exclusion and the role of the media, while exploring the tenderness of relations among those on society's margins. Nothing in the novel is held sacred, and numerous taboos rarely crossed in literature or elsewhere are traversed here. It is a book which will leave many uncomfortable, but there is little doubt: Moya's world is quite unlike any out there. His is an original and inimitable literary voice.
The writer he is most often compared to, at least in the English-speaking world, is Roberto Bolano, the author of The Savage Detectives and 2666. I've not yet read enough of Bolano to make up my mind about this, though from what I have read they seem to be markedly different writers. Regardless, Bolano was himself a fan of Moya. He wrote in an essay on Moya's work that Moya is the "only writer of my generation who knows how to narrate the horror, the secret Vietnam that Latin America Was for a long time ... The acid humour of Horacio Castellanos Moya, resembling that of a Buster Keaton movie or a time-bomb, threatens the hormonal stability of imbeciles, who when they read him feel the irrepressible desire to hang the author in the town square. I can't think of a higher honour for a real writer."
And with this, Bolano has given us perhaps the best entryway into Dance With Snakes. It is both a Buster Keaton movie, chock full of a surreal, violently comedic slapstick, and a time bomb. It's a book we hope will help cement Moya's reputation among English readers.