A review on "El nombre de los nuestros"
EL NOMBRE DE LOS NUESTROS is a disturbing story based partly on oral accounts transmitted to Lorenzo Silva by his grandfather and father and partly on the author’s archival research about Spain’s protracted expeditionary war in the western Sahara during the 1920s. Toward the end of the novel a hard-bitten sergeant is talking with a young recruit who has survived his tour of duty in Morocco and will soon return to Spain. The boy remarks on the capriciousness of war, how some live, some die, and his premonition that each soldier has a bullet with his name on it that will eventually kill him. The sergeant replies that every bullet that finds it mark carries the name of the universal soldier, el nombre de los nuestros, and that every soldier should remember those who died, regardless of the flag under which they had fought. Although this statement of soldierly solidarity occurs at the end of the novel, from the outset we sense a cruel dichotomy between the designers and the fighters of wars. This sentiment intensifies when Silva’s virtual-reality descriptions let us feel what life was like in the trenches. Although these soldiers fought in the deserts of North Africa over eighty years ago, they hauntingly resemble the young grunts sent to the jungles of Vietnam. In fact, as the novel progresses, it seems Silva could have co-written the screenplays for Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket through the force of an intricate prose that infects us with the anxiety felt by his protagonists. Silva sustains the supercharged mélange of terror and impending doom by trifurcating the story line among the battle fronts of Sidi Dris, Afrau, and the hellhole of Talilit. Specifically, each chapter involves us in what is taking place at a particular position, and just when the action seems to reach the boiling point, the author breaks away to the fighting at another front; and so on almost up to the end of the story. His achievement of suspended crescendo produces unforgettable impressions. Silva’s study in horror engages all five senses: we watch dumbstruck the disembowelment of a soldier whose captors laugh at his attempt to contain his intestines; hear the shrieks of another who is being castrated; feel the maddening thirst of humans pushed to the extreme of imbibing their own urine; taste the rancid pork from swine fed on human body parts; and inhale the ubiquitous odor of gangrene and dysentery. The only moments of respite from this Dantesque existence come when Silva shifts his focus from land to sea and portrays life aboard the navy rescue ships. However, these interludes serve only as a torturer’s pause lest we succumb prematurely to the pain that we must still endure in an attempt to understand man’s inhumanity to man. El nombre de los nuestros is a biting indictment of a contemporary attitude of those of us who, despite all the wars and concomitant suffering, have yet to see human life as the sine qua non of our all.
David Ross Gerling
Sam Houston State University
World Literature Today, spring 2002
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Copyright, Lorenzo Silva 2000-2005