Several books on my recent reading pile might broadly be categorised as being about ‘exiles’, and few exiled people have been in a worse position than those who left their homelands to avoid the Central American guerilla wars of the 1980s. This applied especially to combatants, but almost equally at risk were left-wing sympathisers or potential sympathisers, especially of course journalists or writers who might give true accounts of the attrocities being perpetrated by US-supported authoritarian governments.
If perhaps not quite as productive of exile-related literature as neighbouring Guatemala, El Salvador certainly produced some memorable books relating to its period of revolutionary civil war. The novel “One Day of Life” by Manlio Argueta in 1980, is perhaps the most beautiful as well as the saddest book to emerge from that period, relatively early in the history of the struggles. “The Dream of My Return” is the first book I’ve read by Moya, and despite frequent references to violence it manages to be quite light-hearted, playing on the apparent feeble-mindedness of its protagonist, as he vacililates between buying and not buying the air ticket that will take him on his ‘return’ to El Salvador from exile in Mexico.
In reality of course his indecision is perfectly understandable, as he has no idea what fate awaits a left-wing writer returning to his homeland, where the civil war, albeit in its terminal stages, is still in progress. There are plenty of precedents for ‘disappearances’, including those of his own relatives and close friends, recounted as horrific reminders of possible outcomes when (and if) he eventually arrives at Comalapa airport in San Salvador. (The airport had an army base conveniently next to it, and in more peaceful times has been renamed after Óscar Romero, the Salvadorean bishop who was assassinated on 24 March 1980, as he led mass.)
Moya’s title is itself enigmatic. Is his return a ‘dream’, or is the story itself a dream about his return? The novel certainly has dream-like qualities. At times it almost reminded me of “The Unconsoled” by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is rather more explicitly dream-like in its improbable switching from one scene to another. But there is at least sufficient ambiguity about Moya’s short novel to make the reader wonder if the whole of it represents a dream.
If this is not the case, and he is pursuing the ‘dream’ of his return in the sense of a goal or desire, then the ‘dream’ has nightmarish qualities and he frequently scares himself as to where the dream might lead. He’s particularly anxious about the flight, reflected in his near inability to buy the ticket, and when he arrives at the airport the scene is a sort of premonition of what might happen when the plane reaches his destination. But the book is not about the actual return, but about the ‘dream of my return’, a mixture of hope and fear, in which the ordinary, mundane arrival at your home airport is the best thing that can happen, because there could be worse, far worse.