Review of ‘Jaguars’ Tomb’

Near the end of Jaguars’ Tomb, author Angélica Gorodischer asks, “What was not said because it could not be said?” The question articulates the novel’s center: some things are too painful to address directly.

Fascinating and Recursive

Jaguars Tomb

Jaguars’ Tomb
Angélica Gorodischer
Vanderbilt University Press

Gorodischer’s approach is fascinating. She uses a circular trio of points of view. The first section, “Hidden Variables,” is credited to María Celina Igarzábal and narrated by Bruno Seguer. He tries to write about the death of his daughter by torture in the titular Jaguars’ Tomb but struggles to work through the trauma. The next section of Jaguars’ Tomb is the book that he struggles to write —“Recounting From Zero.”

It introduces Evelynne Harrington, a young writer who personally experienced the torture that takes place in the Jaguars’ Tomb. She skirts around her experience in her writing instead of focusing on her own, unrelated book about a woman whose husband leaves her after surviving a plane crash. The last section is Harrington’s novel, “Uncertainty.” It closes the circle by having Igarzábal, the writer of the first section, as its main character. “Uncertainty” repurposes the Jaguars’ Tomb from a torture chamber into a room where Igarzábal has an affair.

Jaguars’ Tomb is more about theme than plot. Each of Gorodischer’s fictional authors is a different degree of separation from the torture and murders at the Jaguars’ Tomb, which shifts the way they write about it. Gorodischer’s thesis seems that the closer someone is to trauma, the more challenging time they will have writing about it.

Harrington is by far the closest and tells an unrelated story in the setting. Seguer is the next closest. His attempts to address it send him reeling, reflected in ever-lengthening sentences and paragraphs, recalling Reinaldo Arenas’ Old Rosa, which uses the same technique to represent its narrators’ mental turmoil. Igarzábal is the furthest from the trauma, and that distance allows her to address the tragedy the most directly.

The novel was written in 2005 but feels tailored to the current moment. With controversies like the one surrounding American Dirt popping up every month, Jaguars’ Tomb offers a reflection on how closeness to trauma affects telling the stories about it.   

A Challenging Read

As Jaguars’ Tomb lifts heavy themes, readers will need to do the heavy lifting with the prose. As mentioned earlier, by the end of “Hidden Variables,” sentences and paragraph breaks have all but disappeared, leaving readers to keep track of changing ideas on their own. Those long sentences and paragraphs are in the other sections as well. This may be because much of the book’s first two sections use stream-of-consciousness narration, which is excellent for showing characters’ interiority but challenging to follow.

Final Thoughts

Jaguars’ Tomb is Angélica Gorodischer’s fourth book translated into English, and the second translated by Amalia Gladhart. It is a challenging read, but Gorodischer’s metatextual take on addressing tragedy in fiction is well worth the work.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Product Details:

Pub Date:  February 15, 2021Page Count: 258ppAge Range: 16 & Over
ISBN: 978-0-8265-0140-0Publisher: Vanderbilt University PressList Price: $19.95

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Ryan C. Bradley
Ryan C. Bradley

Ryan C. Bradley’s work has been featured in The Missouri Review, Dark Moon Digest, The Rumpus, and many other venues. He’s a regular contributor to Cyn’s Workshop and Wicked Horror. A writer, editor, and adjunct professor who loves horror movies, action figures, wrasslin, and pizza, he spends a quarter of his time writing and the other quarter training his dog to stop biting him.

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