Posts Tagged ‘stranger to the moon’

Stranger to the Moon

July 4, 2022

Evelio Rosero is best-known in English for his 2009 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize winning novel The Armies, his first to be translated (by Anne McLean, who has been involved in all subsequent translations of his work). It was followed by Good Offices (2011) and Feast of the Innocents (2015), in which Anne was joined in translation by Anna Milsom, both novels incorporating elements of the surreal, but with a clear grounding in realism. Stranger to the Moon, now with Victor Meadowcroft as co-translator, is entirely allegory, a short novel where, in Rosero’s words “the nightmare took control of everything,” written in the late 1980s when Rosero returned to Colombia from Europe:

“I came back to Colombia, and after less than a week in Bogotá I fell in love and went to live in Chía, in the Cerca de Piedra district, among cows and chickens. The little brick house seemed right out of a fairy tale, but also out of nightmares. I stayed there six years, and I wrote Señor que no conoce la luna, because before I lived in Chía I’d never really seen the moon, as simple as that, I didn’t get to know the moon in Paris or in Barcelona.”

Stranger to the Moon wastes no time in making the reader sit up and take notice:

“It’s true that this house is enormous, but there are just too many of us. In order for us all to fit, there must always be one, at least, inside the wardrobe.”

The narrator, however, sees the advantages of inhabiting the wardrobe, not least the ability to “see without being seen,” having grown his nails sharp enough to bore a hole to look through. In this way we are introduced to the world of the Naked who fill the house, only rarely venturing outside among the clothed, a striking allegory for the divide between the poor and the wealthy, or between any powerful group and those who live on the margins of society, expanded further when the narrator reveals their reasons for remaining indoors:

“Not because we’re terrified of going around naked, but because they themselves, those from outside, seem to be the terrified ones, and therefore do everything possible to terrify us, attacking us in all manner of ways.”

The Naked are not only insulted, humiliated and attacked but are literally tortured in the belief that this will somehow cure the Clothed. In one description of torture Rosero alludes to Christ, when the Clothed tie one of the Naked to a tree “giving him vinegar instead of water to drink, and piercing his skin from time to time with sticks smeared in toxic aloe juice.” The Clothed also visit the house for ‘parties’ – “their friendliness is hypocritical naturally” – bringing food which allows the Naked to survive:

“The most frequent visitors like to get us to fight over a plate of lentils, and they place bets.”

The only physical difference between the Naked and the Clothed is that the Naked have two sexes, and at one point the narrator speculates as to whether stories that anything they wear will burst into flames, are intended “to discourage anyone intending to put on clothes in the hope of incorporating themselves – clothed – into the world of the Clothed.”

Much of the novel’s opening establishes the world of the Naked and the Clothed, but it is also suggested that the narrator in some way different. He tells of a time when he was saved from the Clothed by a woman because of the light in his eye – “Let him go, he’s just a wandering gaze” – and it is implied he is of greater intelligence than most of the Naked:

“They were astonished I was able to speak and respond and refute.”

At times he seems as alien to the Naked as he is to the Clothed, and the novel taps into the genre of the sensitive, intelligent child trapped in poverty and gives us hope of escape, however unlikely.

Stranger to the Moon is an imagination unleashed. It exists in a world of nightmare but one which is also recognisably human. Within only few pages you will believe this world exists, and by the novel’s end you may fear you live in it.