Evelio Rosero’s chilling dystopian parable, Stranger to the Moon, is like the detailed, imaginative nightmare of a fantastic surrealist painting by Max Ernst, populated by the bizarre and often monstrous figures of a creation by Hieronymous Bosch. From the start, the reader is sucked into the mind of one of the undesirable Naked Ones exiled in a wardrobe in a vast but cramped house.
“They’re organized, and everything suggests an important part of that organization lies in their resolve to keep us locked inside this house, for all eternity. Because those who have had to leave our house (and managed to return to tell of it) don’t wish to go back outside.”
The narrator describes the rigid social hierarchy and nasty rituals of the repressive state which has condemned him and a group of naked prisoners. But the human spirit and “the distinct light in each eye” cannot be entirely obliterated.
“Mothers stay with their children during the first years, and then, when the children can — apparently — defend themselves, they release them, they cast them into the naked tumult, and forget them. I’ve seen mothers who despair at having to provide for their children, letting out huge yawns while contemplating them. I never knew if this was because they were racked by exhaustion and fatigue, or out of hunger, a cyclopean desire to devour their young. In any case, these are the same mothers who take responsibility for explaining to them — with beatings, yelling, and gestures — the world into which they’ve arrived. Otherwise, the majority of us (and even our mothers themselves) would never have been able to survive. For my part, I don’t know which of all these women — who wander in circles throughout the house, and whose troubled eyes sometimes occupy the miniature abyss of my window — is my mother. It’s likely she’s still alive.”
Forced to work, entertain and serve the dominant group of sadistic Clothed Ones who mock and humiliate them, the Naked Ones are barely fed, barely clothed, kept in a state of degradation and filth, and are skeletal like “one big breathing bone”. Every Naked One possesses both sexes, and chooses their gender at a young age. Whereas the Clothed Ones visit whenever they like, the Naked Ones cannot leave the house without being tortured, harassed or killed.
A woman is allowed to go outside once a month only — to the cemetery where she grows flowers. She is watched by the clothed, standing “spread out like plaster figurines, sprite-like, in hats and raincoats”.
The narrator’s silent, internal rebellion against the Clothed Ones eventually compels him to risk emerging from the wardrobe in an attempt to fight back . . .
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” Walter Scott
In a period of escalating authoritarianism and ethnocentrism, partisanship and institutional sexism and racism, Stranger to the Moon illuminates where the crushing of individual freedom of thought and action ultimately leads.
A luminous evocation of terror and violence flawlessly translated by Anne McLean and Victor Meadowcroft, it is a sensuous and mesmeric read. The abstract and surreal quality of the writing and images conjure the darkness of elemental human nature.
The Latin American continent is the home of a particular kind of artistic and literary Surrealism — examples from Colombia being the artist Pedro Ruiz and novelist Gabriel García Márquez. Made up of fragments and juxtapositions, Surrealism represents all that is irrational, emotional and subconscious.
The vivid emotional experience created by Evelio Roserio in Stranger to the Moon gives us an abstract representational glimpse of the extreme impact of “power over” exerted by one group of sentient beings on another.
The Latin American continent is also known for its oppressive dictatorships and brutal drug cartels.
Until the surprise election of Donald Trump in 2016, there was no reason to question the survival of the democratic system in the West. Inexplicably, the world’s greatest troll got away with trouncing the core principle that: “The rule of law is the principle that no one is exempt from the law, even those who are in a position of power,” The Constitutional Rights Foundation. His term in office signaled the beginning of a sustained assault on the Western democratic order, and set a precedent. His return is not out of the question.
Now, the pandemic gives a fantastic excuse for all manner of rules and regulations to be implemented — literally overnight in some instances — allegedly in the public interest, but in reality representing a gradual erosion of civil liberties and the freedom of movement, undermining the lives and livelihoods of us ordinary people.
Being obliged to stay at home during lockdown is not living in a wardrobe, but the psychological impact of having to isolate and change life habits is a similar albeit far less extreme form of imprisonment, the impact of which is only beginning to emerge — and is far from over.
Stranger to the Moon by Evelio Rosero, Translated by Anne McLean & Victor Meadowcroft | Mountain Leopard Press | 22 March 2022 PB 112pp £8.99 | ISBN 9781914495021
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