In October of 2010, Peruvian writer Gustavo Faverón published El Anticuario (The Antiquarian), his first novel and one that is sure to leave its mark on the long and rich tradition of Latin American fiction. While Faverón is best known as one of Peru’s leading literary and social critics, his novel is earning him a place among other remarkable Peruvian writers who have emerged over the last twenty years. In El Anticuario, Faverón addresses terror, not only as theme; nor as a literary exploration into the grotesque, nor even as a socio-political platform upon which another writer would have espoused his ideology; rather, for Faverón terror is a medium that allows him to conduct a sincere examination of the reality of human suffering and a search for solidarity.
In his Review, Un puente entre las islas del terror (A Bridge between the Isles of Terror), which I highly recommend, published in La Mula, Luis Hernán Castañeda has written that this “is undoubtedly a cerebral work saturated with occult references, where reading and criticism are fundamental practices, but El Anticuario is not a cold text, but a tour de force as intellectual as it is visceral, as cosmopolitan as it is deeply rooted in Peru.”
“Few times in Peruvian literature”, writes Alonso Cueto, “has such remarkable prose been used in such heartfelt and violent stories.” For Iván Thays it is “with impeccable sharpness, [that] Gustavo Faverón places us in a story that puts in question not only the limits of reason, but also the limits of friendship.” According to Edmundo Paz Soldán, “El Anticuario begins with intentional echoes of Borges and Auster only to later on distance itself and create its own unsettling narrative world. The atmosphere is that of a terror novel, but what is frightening has nothing to do with Gothic ghosts, but rather with the inner workings of the soul, with the strange fraternal bonds that join us together and divide us.”
Rosella Di Paolo has suggested that “the diverse and successful registers propose surprising conceptualizations of the world: The first of these is the vision that it acquires through the distorting lens of literature and all that can be linked to it: books, papers, libraries, booksellers, writers, and readers. There are also more abstract levels, like those related to the word itself and to its benign and malignant powers. It is the word that creates oral or written discourses, rational and fantastic discourses, cited or schizophrenic discourses, or discourses that simply turn silent. Moreover, in this book there exist aspects related to lyrical resources (the language of the novel is impregnated with poetic beauty); to theatrical resources (the protagonists represent characters of a book that they themselves are reading); and to narrative resources (the novel itself contains short sub-stories and vignettes).”
One absolutely striking metaphor of which Faverón makes good use is that of elasticity. While one of the characters, Daniel, describes the image he has, or would like to have, of himself, he describes the very peculiar Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and links it to the imagination. With the author’s permission, I have translated the following passage from the book:
Mireaux went on, with that high-pitched voice of his that turned to dust as soon as it left his lips, “Juliana had never heard Daniel talk about himself, and suddenly, to her own dismay, defeated by the spectacular and taciturn sympathy of our friend, she was seduced by Daniel’s words, and she dove into them headlong as if she had immersed herself in a novel. “I’m going to tell you how I see myself,” Daniel said to her, “or at least, how I would like to see myself: like a person who has many bodies simultaneously, all joined together by a very complex nexus of joints that at once touch just as many parallel worlds at an infinite number of points. The function of these Siamese bodies would be to come into contact with everything else, to unite with everything, to encompass everything, and for this, it would be necessary to train them, so that the bodies could learn to sharpen their senses, to rehearse the ways in which their joints must move, their limbs must bend, their abdomens must straiten, in order to achieve a length would allow them to reach anywhere. And when I say body, I really mean spirit: one’s spirit must reach everywhere. Doesn’t that make sense?” asked Daniel. “Well, not really” said Juliana. “Fine. Let me give you an example. I bet you’ve never heard anything about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, have you?”
When Mireaux reached that point, a sudden sadness invaded me: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome was the illness that Sophia had, the disease that had forced her into seclusion to live out the few years of her life that might otherwise have been normal. Daniel, who never spoke about his sister, as I’ve said, indeed picked up the topic of that illness quite frequently. In brief, this is how he told the story: “Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome has always been around, but it has only had a name since 1908, when two doctors, the Dane Edvard Ehlers and the Frenchman Henri-Alexandre Danlos, brought together at the Society of Syphilology and Dermatology of Paris by the misfortune of each having fathered a deformed child, decided to investigate the causes of those birth defects and arrived at a carefully crafted classification. Those who suffer Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome have elastic and spongy skin. They can stretch it with their fingers until visibly separating it from the muscles, sometimes, up to a distance of thirty or forty centimeters. A victim of this disease can pull his skin away of his forearms, until it turns flabby and hangs from the body, and he can do the same with the skin of his abdomen and his shoulders, until it looks as if he were wearing a rain-poncho of human flesh that, at any time, could be slipped over the head and rolled up neatly in a sack. Their joints are likewise malleable, like the little bones of a fetus, which is why they can bend their knees, elbows, ankles or necks in ways that are impossible for the rest of us, as if everything in their body were double-jointed or were to break apart with each movement only to come back together just seconds later in bodily movements that are not human. “For sure, this is what happens more often than not. This is how Hippocrates of Cos, in the 5th century B.C., described the peculiar skin and flaccid joints of the Getai warriors of Thrace, and those of the Scythians and other nomads who roamed along the Danube and the Don. He and his contemporaries thought them to have the power to turn into water or smoke, into bubbles or vapor, to infiltrate the houses of their enemies or to refrain from breathing or drinking in order to possess them. It was a superstitious invention, of course, but, as always, it was based on a profound intuition: that complete elasticity is a feature of either God or the Devil”.
Daniel tended to finish that explanation, adding or removing a few nuances, with the same question that he asked half-jokingly: “Do we not speak of elasticity when we say that God is everywhere? So then…” Mireaux said he added that time, “what I have, Juliana, is a variant of Ehlers-Danlos that doesn’t affect my skin or my bones, but rather my imagination.”
“So you mean to say that mentally you’re a monster?”, she asked him, with a flirting but cautious expression, sipping coffee from her mug, and Daniel responded “perhaps I am, the thing is that it’s all the same, since we’re all monsters, in one way or another; it’s just a matter of delving into one’s own birth defects, and still, the more monstrous one is, the greater is one’s uniqueness.” He lowered his voice drawing close to Juliana, “and if being different really upsets you, that’s not a problem either. It’s a matter of finding that deformity on the stage where it becomes an extraordinary ability. You know who Niccolò Paganini is, don’t you?”
Copies of El Anticuario can be purchased here. Faverón is the author of Rebeldes: Sublevaciones indígenas y naciones emergentes en Hispanoamérica en el siglo XVIII, Toda la sangre. Antología de cuentos peruanos sobre la violencia política and coauthor of Bolaño salvaje. El escritor ante la crítica. Aside from his numerous scholarly articles, Faverón is author of one of the most widely read blogs of contemporary Peruvian writers, Puente Aéreo. He is an Assistant Professor of Romance Languages at Bowdoin College in Maine.