The Less Gnawed Side of the Coin: A Biographical Sketch of Roberto Carlos Pérez
Fiona Griffin translates a biographical sketch of Casasola's writer Roberto Carlos Pérez written by Honduran critic and poet Gustavo Campos. Roberto Carlos work has gained international attention not only for its numerous essays that range from the Middle Ages, the Golden Age, Spanish Modernism and the effects of Nicaragua's civil war in contemporary Nicaraguan literature, but also because of his short stories and most recent novel A Wonderful World. Roberto Carlos Pérez has been categorized as a contemporary humanist. This translation can provide the English speaking audience a better understanding of Mr. Perez's literary contribution and interests.
The work of Roberto Carlos Pérez (Granada, Nicaragua, 1976) draws on an obstinate determination to reveal through literature what history archives. With his first book, Around Midnight and Other Stories of Vertigo in History (Casasola, 2012), he examines the world that was torn from him because of the Sandinista revolution. At 35 years of age, through a meticulous exercise in lucidity, memory and expressive purification, he published, finally, that dark and infernal universe: the less gnawed side of the coin in the history of the Sandinista revolution that oscillated between 1979 and 1990. This is taken up again in his next novel, A Wonderful World (Casasola, 2017), a setting in which he raises and analyzes the effects of the war on new Nicaraguan literature, one of the themes that most haunts his literature as well as his essays and articles.
In a recent interview published in the online newspaper El PulsoHN, Roberto Carlos, also a professional musician who holds degrees from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Howard University, and the University of Maryland in Spanish literature, describes himself as a “son of the war” and as a “humanist” who had to “see death up close.” In a manner similar to that of Reinaldo Arenas, who denounced the atrocities committed in Cuba, Roberto Carlos Pérez records the ideology of the social, political, and economic model of a country whose government would end up corrupting itself. Reality is presented as a confused line lost on the horizon and this silence in no more than a sinister link. The writer interrogates as much as he describes and he takes advantage of the interstices of history to liberate the text from human and discursive obligations, positioning his work as a suspended manifestation of humanism in which all lose in war. As in the song by the Argentine group Sui Generis, “Lamentos y tribulaciones de un rey” (“Laments and Tribulations of a King”), the opposite side of the triumphalism of revolutions is shown, as are the victims who remain, some recorded and many omitted. This theme, along with medieval and Golden Age literature, is his specialty.
Roberto Carlos looks for, then, in the shadow of himself, that which was taken away in childhood: the relationship between man and the world. In order to face this, he seeks, as an antidote, the multiplication of his narrative voice in infinite masks: the eight stories that comprise his first book are, it could be said, an introspective exercise of retranslating history in its different stages, from the colonial period in Nicaragua until the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
His weapon is the word and in A Wonderful World he shows it in such a brilliant and convincing way.
However, the historical and social undertones are motivated by the individual search for the truth, in social and political tensions, which influences the characters in the work of Roberto Carlos (who is the son of Somocistas), revealing the misery and tragic insubstantiality of love as appropriation and as self-confirmation, as claimed (suffered) by F., the character in A Wonderful World: “The panic attacks and depressions lasted months and not even the love for this wonderful being that passed through my life like an enchanted bird could distract me from sadness.”
Roberto Carlos gives to some of his work an ambiguously autobiographical bias, an empathy that encounters his most diverse connections, but one in common, from the stories “Grandfather’s Visit,” “The House on Cervantes Street,” and “The Alley of Torments” with A Wonderful World, a novel in which, owing to the human condition, he creates an empathetic bridge with his novel’s character, F.—a tribute to the late poet Francisco Ruiz Udiel (1977–2010). The lyrical memory in A Wonderful World reflects the consequences of the war and what many literary critics have called the disenchantment of “postwar literature.” But despite references to the nuclear ideas he narrates (loneliness, oppression, anguish, misfortune, and misery), he contrasts these with beautiful moments pulled from the depths of his being and his experience which exude a profound tenderness, like those which he dedicates to Jimena in part IV of his novel and in part III of La bohème, where friendship is frank and seasoned with magic extrapolated from Giacomo Puccini’s opera in a game of substitutions. But what is writing if not a way to “erase the marks of fire on the skin or banish from my mind the terrible images of war?”
The characters in Roberto Carlos Pérez’s final stories in Around Midnight and Other Stories of Vertigo in History enter into a double condition: “Papá was totally absorbed in his business, which was moving upward like seafoam and Mamá was spending time organizing useless parties . . .”, “in Papá’s friends who praised the torture taking place in the Somoza family’s prisons,” which the utopian ideology of the narrator opposes, like “The House on Cervantes Street” shows, where a child suffers the panic of being enclosed in an old room with rats because his parents dread his being recruited for war: “Perhaps the best thing would be for me to go to war once, to fulfill my patriotic duty as they have said of so many others who have not returned and never will return,” “Granada is deserted, no one dares to go out.”
The sentence “1988 has been a horrible year,” appears in a story and later is repeated in an interview. That was the year in which the author and his family moved to the United States due to constant threats by the government of the “red and black flag.”
Nevertheless, the author’s book of stories is not a manifesto against Sandinismo, just as with his novel; it is more. In “Francisco the Warrior,” the narrator tells us of the slip-ups of Abigail with Francisco: “Abigail prostrate in oblivion and cursing love for the rest of her days but never the liberal cause, gave birth to a girl, beautiful and robust, from whose womb was born the mother of he who later, for better or for worse, would be known as the general of free men, Augusto Cesar Sandino.” It reappears in “The Tower of God” that the poets Joaquín Pasos, and José Coronel Urtecho, among others, were passionate about Sandino. He makes a historical separation and differentiation between Sandino and Ortega, confining the latter to a leader hungry for totalitarian power, appropriating, with good judgement, a balance that settles the untold history, the other version, of those dispossessed as a result of the war. Partial history is an incomplete history of man and, therefore, of a society.
Roberto Carlos’s characters are reflections of the different faces of those who would seem to be marked by this terrible triad from a poem of Cervantes: “Death, change, madness” and that also manifests in “Ruins” with the character José de la Cruz Mena, a musician who leads a life between “Job and Lazarus” but one in which beautiful works such as the poetic melodies of Mozart, Haydn, and Vivaldi show the cultural and artistic splendor of Vienna. Repeated are such suggestive and contrasting images that have appeared in other stories: the sound of a trumpet, barking mastiffs, harmonizing a melody of horror.
The fear aroused by war physically, emotionally, and morally castrates the dialogues of the characters: “I am only a man from the provinces who didn’t know his Isolde and neither did I fight for Elsa’s love.”
As a specialist, he has delved into numerous essays on the Golden Age, rescuing Pedro Calderón de la Barca and contrasting him with Shakespeare. He has also written on Cervantes and has proven to be one of the great scholars of Rubén Darío. Furthermore, he has denounced the corruption of the current Nicaraguan government headed by Daniel Ortega. In addition to publishing stories and essays in national and international magazines, his work has been included in various anthologies: Flores de la trinchera/Flowers in the Trench (2012), a sample of the new Nicaraguan narrative, and Un espejo roto/A Broken Mirror, a sample of the new Central American and Dominican narrative as well as its translation into German, Zwischen Süd und Nord: Neue Erzähler aus Mittelamerika (Zürich, 2014). Currently he is part of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language and is editor of the online magazine Ágrafos.