Guatemalan exile Rey Rosa (Dust on Her Tongue, 1992) borrows elements from his own life in a short novel of futuristic alienation.
On leaving his homeland, Rey Rosa immigrated to the U.S. but then departed for Morocco, where he came into the orbit of Paul Bowles, his first translator. Bowles turns up in this novel as John Field, “the American artist and critic who’d spent the last half of his life in Tangier.” Field has befriended many people in his time, among them a Mexican writer who, many years after Field’s death, is enlisted by old friend Mohammed Zhrouni to help him tell a story he has recorded on the now ancient medium of the cassette—but also to decipher the contents of a memory card. Tapes and card help provide a circumstantial portrait of Field and Mohammed but more of Mohammed’s young son, Abdelkrim, a genius who—a crow tells Mohammed, for this is, after all, a fable—“has a special…destiny in store for him.” Mohammed wonders if the crow said “spatial” instead of “special,” and there’s a reason for that. Abdelkrim, for his part, fulfills both prophecies, though in a way that is perhaps not very realistic—as noted, this is a fable, so that’s to be forgiven—and that also pointedly criticizes the way in which Muslims are perceived in post–9/11 America. “Time does not exist,” Rey Rosa repeatedly says, but yet it passes: Abdelkrim’s dream to become an American and, more than that, an American astronaut is thwarted, but he manages to find his way into space anyway even as Field enters eternity “a week before the Americans brought down Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.” Rey Rosa’s story tackles questions of religion, anomie, and, ultimately, what the authorities would deem terrorism: Asked whether he has become an anarchist, Abdelkrim answers, “Antiarms more than anything else,” for which he has just the remedy.
Allusive and metaphorical, with a nicely unpredictable close that offers a flicker of hope for humankind.