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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

The Gold Seekers

Augusto Monterroso

general information | our review | links | about the author

Title: The Gold Seekers
Author: Augusto Monterroso
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 118 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Gold Seekers - US
Los buscadores de oro - US
I cercatori d'oro - Italia
Los buscadores de oro - España
  • Spanish title: Los buscadores de oro
  • Translated and with a Translator's Note by Jessica Sequeira
  • With an Introduction by Enrique Vila-Matas

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Our Assessment:

A- : a lovely little memoir

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Gold Seekers is basically a childhood-memoir, concentrating on family and place. A loose memoir, presented in fairly short chapters with different foci, it nevertheless returns repeatedly to the basics of where Monterroso is from, both in terms of family-background and locale.
       Monterroso explains how, despite having been born in Honduras: "I am, feel myself to be, and have always been Guatemalan" -- but also describes a life, and specifically a childhood, of frequent displacement, moving from place to place, contributing to: "the sensation of estrangement, of not belonging, that has accompanied me" since childhood.
       He finds:

In the end, I am not a citizen of the world, but a citizen of nowhere. I've never voted. I've never contributed to choosing a president, or even a city councilor: in Honduras, because I wasn't of legal age; in Guatemala, because under the dictator Jorge Ubico there weren't elections but only fraudulent plebiscites in which I didn't participate; in Mexico, because as an exile I don't have that ability.
       He writes from a considerable distance -- he was in his early seventies when this book was published -- and notes:
     Countless memories are erased if they do not appear again at a given moment, or given instant. The simple fact of writing this line, the time it takes me, makes dozens vanish.
       Many of the recollections then are also vague and distant ones -- "I've never had a good memory for external events of any nature, whether important or banal", he admits --, yet anchored in enough specificity -- from book titles to physical details -- to make for an evocative picture.
       Perhaps the most revealing passage describes a maturation that nevertheless stumbles at what might seem the most straightforward point of understanding:
I began to distinguish, with a certain precision, the difference that existed between what one dreams while asleep, and what one dreams while awake; between the people one can trust, and the ones it is preferable to render neutral by keeping a distance; between the contents of a novel of adventures, and that of a book of history, with historical novels in the middle; but I still could not distinguish too much between the universe of fantasy and the universe of reality, even if I started to learn from my own experience what was possible and what was not, what was given to me to achieve and what would remain, in the end, as mere longing.
       This lingering inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish completely between fantasy and reality carries through in Monterroso's writing, here as elsewhere, and is part of its great appeal.
       Monterroso writes fondly of a father that led the family slowly down the social ladder, bitten by the magazine-bug -- the family long had a printing press at home -- but never managing to make much of a success of it, the father having: "acquired the vice of editing magazines and periodicals, which he continued with enthusiasm, forever meeting with failure, until the day of his death".
       Monterroso also goes back further in his family tree, with vague memories of some or just what he's heard of others, noting also that: "It's possible to choose your most remote ancestors", in a chapter in which he finds: "I might also be, more happily, the reincarnation of an obscure Italian Renaissance poet". For all these games he plays and follows, he also insists:
     It's worth clarifying, by the way, that my interest in genealogies is non-existent. By a direct English line, we are all descended from Darwin.
       Throughout, there are also glimmers of the budding author, from the books he engages with to the childhood memories of gold-panning with some older boys. He sums it up:
     The paths that lead to literature can be short and direct, or long and tortuous. The desire to follow them with no guarantee that they necessarily will bring him to a place of safety is what will transform the boy into a writer. Once more, between the real and imaginary scene, to choose the latter is an unconscious decision he'll have to pay for in what awaits him of life, through a high quota of work, discipline, and suffering, if he truly wants to never arrive, to explore unknown worlds without stopping, and to forever start over again, as if from the beginning.
       Grounded in the real -- The Gold Seekers is a memoir, and presents many episode from his life --, Monterroso's account nevertheless also shows his imagination still such a strong influence, the pull to the imaginary scene still such a strong one. Throughout, there is also that sense of wanting 'to never arrive'.
       With a nice Introduction by Enrique Vila-Matas, The Gold Seekers is a lovely little volume, and a wonderful introduction to an author whose work we should see much more of.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 December 2023

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The Gold Seekers: Reviews: Other books by Augusto Monterroso under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Augusto Monterroso, Guatemalan author, born in 1921 in Honduras, resident of Mexico since 1956. Winner of the Mexican Xavier Villaurrutia Prize in 1996 and the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters 2000. He died 7 February 2003.

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© 2023 the complete review

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