Y la tierra estaba desordenada y vacía y las tinieblas estaban sobre la faz del abismo.
(And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. 1:2, KJV)
My dad was always bringing home boxes of books from yard sales and thrift shops. Lots of crap, of course, but enough gems to keep us interested. One of the most memorable was a contemporary paperback novel with a loud red cover and weird art by a guy named R.M. Koster. It was called The Prince, in deference to the famous tome from Sig. Machiavelli, but being a mere lad of thirteen at the time I wasn't too hip on Renaissance literature. It was one of those books that held sway over me--I kept trying to read it but could not. It was too strange, too daunting. My tastes in those days tended to Alistair MacLean, Isaac Asimov, and MAD Magazine. The book began with a listing of all the rulers of the fictional Republic of Tinieblas and their succession of terrible fates, the most benign of which were "deposed." Then there was a dreamy opening sequence, a fantasy of revenge and torture involving a well-lubricated revolver and a hog-tied victim. It was heady stuff for a kid, even if it was the seventies. I was not ready for Mr. Koster and his twisted protagonist Kiki Sancudo. Eventually, when I'd just about finished high school, I decided to read the entire thing. And it blew my underdeveloped Catholic schoolboy mind. After Kafka, in college, I read it again. The book and its two successors (now called The Tinieblas Trilogy) were re-issued in 1989, and I read The Prince again. As well as The Dissertation and Mandragon, the concluding volumes. Both were, to no surprise of mine, brilliant.
Overlook Press is re-issuing the set. I suggest you get your hands on these books and read them, they are unique, and fittingly, overlooked. Part fantasy, part noir, part political thriller, part fable, part crime caper, The Prince is wildly audacious, searingly funny, achingly sad, and strikingly original. It has swagger, bluster, and machismo aplenty, but it is also chest deep in the terrible tragedy that is Latin American democracy, and you can't help but feel the suffering of the real people that live in real places not much different than Tinieblas. Mr. Koster is 79 years old and says another book is coming. I can't wait. The rest of you have some reading to do.