Noviembre by Jorge Galán
México City. Planeta. 2015. 255 pages.
On November 16, 1989, the US-trained Atlacatl battalion of the Salvadoran army broke into the Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas” (uca) and murdered six Jesuit scholars who had spoken up against social injustices, a university employee, and her sixteen-year-old daughter. The massacre took place days after the guerrilla forces of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (fmln) had begun its final offensive on El Salvador’s capital. The massacre marked one of most horrific pages of the Salvadoran conflict and sparked worldwide public outrage, especially because the perpetrators enjoyed high-level protection in the government, which, in an attempted cover-up move, immediately blamed the FMLN. This tragic event is the subject of the new novel of the Salvadoran author and poet Jorge Galán, one of the most original voices in the Latin American literary landscape. Following the publication of the book, the author has received death threats and has fled the country.
The personal aspect behind the publication of the book should not, however, adumbrate its literary qualities. Noviembre is, in fact, a truly powerful work in the tradition of the nonfiction novel genre. It is the result of three years of research and interviews carried out by the author, who in a compelling prose, which alternates fiction and journalistic reportage, omniscient narration and interviews, offers a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding the events. Galán sheds light on the organization of the murder, its contexts, the involvement of US governmental agencies, the trial, and the strenuous effort made by the Jesuit priest José María Tojeira to establish the truth.
The historical events, such as the assassination of the archbishop Óscar Romero, are interlocked with the narration of people involved in the events narrated. Galán offers poetic portraits of various protagonists of the novel: the rector of the UCA, Ignacio Ellacuría; Lucía, the only witness to the massacre; Juan, one the soldiers of the Atlacatlbattalion. The result is a mosaic of stories that, bridging the gap between individual perspective and collective memory, offers a wide portrait of the Salvadoran society of the time.
Noviembre is an important novel that, like the recent memory turn in Latin American literature, revives collective memory and offers the possibility of coming to terms with the traumatic events of El Salvador’s relatively recent past.
Francesco Di Bernardo
University of Sussex