The recent history of Latin America has given its artists and writers the dubious privilege of being able to draw on actual events and first-hand experiences when delving into the psychologies of torturer and tortured – perhaps the best-known example being Chilean author Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden. Guatemalan novelist Ronald Flores has mined his country’s blood-soaked history of military dictatorship and civil war to fashion a work that explores the concepts of reconciliation and self-justification.
Doctor Ernesto Sandoval is a Guatemalan exile, pursuing a successful career in the US as a psychologist specializing in the treatment of torture victims. He decides to abandon his comfortable life in order to return to his homeland and put his skills at the service of a country finally inching towards a fragile peace after decades of killing. His first patient, far from being a victim of torture, is General Jorge Camacho, an army commander who has authorized and participated in torture and murder. As the two men warily circle each other in the counselling sessions, Sandoval’s attempted professional detachment spars with Camacho’s icy contempt and self-belief. The novel is structured as a monologue which switches abruptly and seamlessly between characters, looping from present to past and back again. Final Silence is a finely modulated meditation on guilt and forgiveness and Ronald Flores deserves praise for constructing from the rubble of a terrible history – a tale that affirms the possibility of a better future.