The Iguana Speaks My Name
By Roberto Moulun
Reviewed by Bob Drynan
Roberto Moulun’s collection of short stories weaves a tapestry as brilliantly colorful as the tejidos hawked in the streets and shops of Chichicastenango, Antigua and Guatemala City. Panimache, a hidden village in the mountains overlooking Lake Atitlan in Guatemala could be a metaphor for our own village of Ajijic. The inhabitants of Panimache pretended not to notice the cloud of “war that raped the land and left a trail of orphans.” The backdrop of random violence and intimidation, fed by political ambition, greed, and foreign manipulation darkens the lives of simple folk who have “no dog in the fight.” The problems of everyday existence demand their attention, but a hostile outside world haunts their dreams and occasionally intrudes into their lives.
Moulun’s tapestry is of whole cloth, laced with a wide ranging dramatis personae, rich with deeply human characters; some mundane, a few passionate, often drolly humorous, and frequently tragic. He introduces the reader to such colorful characters as La China, the wistful whore; the French painter Alizarin pining for his German enamorata; El Lobo the local military commander who totes a pistol, butt forward “like Wild Bill Hickok”; the sajorin, a Mayan witch doctor that exorcizes an ailing infant; the tragic lovers, Lotario and Coco; and Juan Domingo, a one-armed gardener who assists the protagonist In the rescue of an abused iguana.
This Guatemalan indigenous world oscillates from the harsh realities of life in the humble village to the imaginary or perhaps allegorical flights of inherited Mayan legends. In one deliciously erotic incident his protagonist is almost seduced by La Ciguanagua, a siren who entices young men to their death.
Roberto’s imagery is evocative; a mad woman’s laughter that began “at first lightly like a brook, and then like overflowing water.” His description of a village plaza in which “children and dogs ran freely, as if they...had sprouted from the soil,” evokes visions of a Sunday morning in the Ajijic town square. His love of the majesty of the Guatemalan highlands is lyrical, “...the incandescence of the rising sun on the three volcanoes which stood like oriental magi worshipping the birth of a god.”
Moulun’s writing exposes other personal passions, as his treadle threads into his narratives allusions to the brushes of Manet, Goya, Cezanne, Titian, and Van Gogh; the literary classics of Goethe, Byron and the poetic insights of Robert Frost; and he delightfully draws parallels of Mayan mythology with the imaginations of the cultures of Mediterranean antiquity.
As wide ranging as Moulun’s interests extend, his writing reflects the choice of his life work as a psychiatrist, his deep seated compassion for human vulnerability.
His chapters in Iguana could stand alone as single anecdotes, each describing an aspect of the human condition; insightful displays of individual foibles and conflicting virtues. His Part Two: Ten Backyard Stories from Panimache, is indeed a collection of stand-alone anecdotes, but they cleverly tie together as a whole with Part One.
Read his words, meet his characters, view his world, revel in his imagination and when you finish you will want to consider yourself a friend of Roberto Moulun.
Ed. Note: Kindle and paperback versions of The Iguana Speaks My Name will be available on Amazon.com in early September 2012. Print copies will be available in Ajijic at book signing events with the author beginning in late September, and at Diane Pearl Colecciones and La Una Restaurante. Please visit www.egretbooks.com/moulun for further information.