A tale of torture

Final Silence takes readers on a journey into the psychology of violence, bravely shining a light on the darkest recesses of the torturer’s mind


Final Silence
Ronald Flores,
Aflame Books, 2008
108 pages

Reviewed by Eugene Carey

ONE OF THE most original novels to have been written about Guatemala’s civil war since the 1970s, Final Silence (first published in Spanish as Último silencio) takes as its context not the war itself but the violence of the peace – that confused, postwar condition of unfulfilled reconciliation forever on the verge of real recrimination.

The winding and stony path that must be taken to arrive at reconciliation in a country still suffering the aftershocks of a civil war that claimed upwards of 200,000 lives is one many authors fear to tread. Not so Flores, a straight-talking and articulate observer of his country’s complex condition.

As in much of his work (Maiz y palabra, 1999; El cuarto jinete, 2000; Errar la noche, 2000; The señores of Xiblabla, 2003; Conjeturas del engaño, 2004), Flores takes a position in Final Silence that is both tangential yet frontal. This prolific author is becoming known as one of the most thoughtful writers of his generation for his ability to decant the core moral issues that are brought to the surface by his story lines.

Guatemalan terror

Final Silence traces the lives of two characters who embody both sides of the terror that was Guatemala’s conflict: one, a successful psychologist working in the US who has forged a career treating victims of torture, who returns to his country in an effort to emancipate himself from fear and passive guilt; the other, a military torturer trying to escape the active guilt of his many heinous crimes, one of which was committed against the former’s brother.

The torturer becomes the psychologist’s patient, creating the perfect atmosphere of dramatic tension for Flores to explore the complex dimensions of the act and psychology of reconciliation.

It is for the reader to determine whether reconciliation is – or can be – achieved, and a careful reading of this book makes this task both enlightening and fulfilling. Gavin O’Toole’s crisp and clear translation helps in this task.

Winner of the Premio Mario Monteforte Toledo, 1999, Final Silence is a highly intelligent novel that announced the arrival of an important new protagonist on Guatemala’s literary scene. At the same time its clear, lucid style makes it accessible and, surprisingly, not too heavy given the weighty theme.

Eugene Carey is a journalist