Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Department of Spanish and Portuguese

New Novel by Prof. Arturo Arias

Thu, December 9, 2010
New Novel by Prof. Arturo Arias
Prof. Arturo Arias

  Arturo Arias, Professor of Latin American Literature and Indigenous Studies in our department, presented his most recent novel, Arias de Don Giovanni (FyG Editores, 2010), at the 2010 Guadalajara International Book Fair. This is the first novel he has produced since receiving the 2008 Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature, the most important literary award of Guatemala. The Miguel Angel Asturias Prize was granted to Professor Arias in recognition of his entire body of work.  In this sense, according to Arias himself, the award was not only a moving tribute to his literary career, but also, and more importantly, "the encouragement to continue writing and publishing."

  In his latest novel, Arias narrates the relationship between two Guatemalan refugees living in California:  Pacha, a transsexual, and Juana, a lesbian.  In the story, Pacha falls so in love with Juana that he is willing to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.  In the author’s words, "the erotic backdrop serves as a mechanism to indirectly confront the consequences of Guatemala's political failures, as well as to explore the nature of the Central American diaspora -- an exodus primarily to the US, but also to Europe; a diaspora experience that mutates the exiled as they find themselves confronting lifestyles and human conditions very different from those of their countries of origin."

  Arias vividly contrasts the protagonists' blossoming self-acceptance with their inability to overcome their traumatic pasts. A series of flashbacks carries the reader back to the Guatemala of the 1970s, before the outbreak of civil war. These journeys through the characters’ memories allow Arias to depict and denounce the kind of provincialism and reactionary attitudes that, unbridled by any sense of democratic consciousness, led Guatemalans into an era of repression, violence and, ultimately, mass exodus.

  Arias’ novel molds together past and present, war and sex, into a unique transgressive artifact, one that seeks, as Arias explains, "[to] articulate the recovery of historical memory through eroticism." It is no coincidence that the sexual passions of Pacha and Juana encompass both the erotic and the thanatic. Much like an operatic aria, Pacha's monologue points to the essence of the novel: the powerful interplay of sex and war; an interplay with the potential to generate personal and collective trauma when articulated through violence.

  Twice a recipient of the Casa de las Americas prize, Arturo Arias has published six previous novels: Sopa de caracol (2002), Cascabel (1998), Los caminos de Paxil (1991); Jaguar en llamas (1989); Itzam Na (1982); and Después de las bombas (1979). He also co-authored the screenplay for the film El Norte (1984), directed by Gregory Nava.  This screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1985.

* Written by José Enrique Navarro, graduate student, Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The University of Texas at Austin.

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