AUTHOR: Eduardo Ruiz Sosa
PUBLISHER: Editorial Candaya
READER’S NAME: Tony Beckwith
DATE: April 17, 2017
In the early 1970s, a brotherhood of university students launched a revolutionary movement in northern Mexico. Calling themselves Los Enfermos [The Sick or The Diseased], they sought to upset the status quo, “kill capitalism,” and create a new political and social order in the country. Some four decades later, the Ministry of Culture commissions a journalist to write a biography of a poet who had been a member of that group. The resulting interviews and conversations form the basis of Eduardo Ruiz Sosa’s Anatomía de la Memoria [Anatomy of Memory].
The novel is structured along the lines of “The Anatomy of Melancholy,” a book by Robert Burton published in 1621. Though ostensibly a medical text, Burton’s book is in fact a work of literature that, hugely ambitious in scope and reference, uses the concept of melancholy as a prism through which to examine all human thought and emotion. Ruiz Sosa’s novel takes a similar approach, discussing—in frequently lyrical prose—the decomposition of memories and the human tendency to cling to what we lose over the course of time: “The present is the sand, the past is the river,” and “destiny is what happens when the past becomes the future.”
As the biographer interviews the poet, who is now an old man, a rambling story emerges that gradually introduces other members of the student group and reconstructs past events, relationships, conspiracies, and betrayals. The poet’s memory is unreliable, we are told, and his kaleidoscopic flashbacks weave in and out of the group’s history as he questions its true purpose and his own identity: “How can we know that we are who we think we are, or who we are told we are, or who we want to be?” The author acknowledges that memory itself is fickle and accepts that the mind often fills in the gaps with so-called recollections that may or may not be true. Elaborating on that theme, the interviewer wonders “how is it possible that each one of those Enfermos has such a different idea about what happened in those years, or what should be said about those years, or what it means to say something about history, about what we assume to be an indisputable fact?”
Ruiz Sosa’s writing is hypnotic, if somewhat repetitive at times. His relentless prose, punctuated with commas, colons, and semicolons but very few periods, provides a sort of stream-of-consciousness account of long-ago encounters with police and the fate that befell the different characters as they ran for their lives through darkened streets. It’s an interesting if unusual style that succeeds remarkably well in this brooding, meandering blend of narrative and dialogue. There are what feel like almost hallucinogenic descriptions of acts of violence, sometimes inflicted on the students by the authorities (ominously identified as Ellos [Them]), and sometimes by the students on each other. There is a surreal, dreamlike quality to the writing—reminiscent of Mexican writer Juan Rulfo’s classic Pedro Páramo—that keeps the reader wondering whether the living are in fact talking to the dead or whether the dead have somehow come back to life.
The underlying theme of the book is that the government is hopelessly corrupt and dishonest, and there is no justice for the common man: “Lies, wrote the poet, are the foundations of the Country.” The country in question is never actually identified, but is always referred to simply as el País. The text is peppered with epigraphs from many different sources, such as the Mexican writer Elena Garro, who tells us that “The future is the repetition of the past.”
Eduardo Ruiz Sosa was born in Culiacán, Mexico in 1983; he has lived in Barcelona since 2006. He holds a PhD in the History of Science. He is currently in the final year of his doctorate studies of Spanish Philology. In 2007 he won the Inés Arredondo National Literature Prize for his book La voluntad de marcharse (Fondo Editorial Tierra Adentro, 2008). In 2012 he was awarded the Hans Nefkens 1st Literary Scholarship, which allowed him to study for a master’s degree in Literary Creation at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and spend a year writing Anatomía de la memoria.