Israel Centeno’s first book is the novel Calletania, originally published in Caracas in 1992 by Monte Ávila Editores. That same year it won the CONAC (Consejo Nacional de la Cultura) prize for best novel. The story concerns various friends in the neighborhood of Catia (Western Caracas) in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Berlin wall, former communist revolutionaries, some transformed into gangsters, others disenchanted and wrapped in solitary obsessions. Such as Coronel, whose marriage to the intellectual, revolutionary Marta is falling apart, though his lover the actress Raiza visits him at the beach, where he goes to escape for a night, a house left to him by his father, whose presence as a ghost among many that inhabit the beach cottage makes the novel a Shakespearean globe, self-enclosed and insular. A third lover, Tania of the book’s title, serves as a muse/hallucination that Coronel maintains in his semi-detached breakdown. Caracas is portrayed through a single city block in Catia, the possibility of revolution, socialism and its theories are lived, discussed and predicted by various characters, a single impulse over two days in the universal city.
The Spanish publishing house Editorial Periférica (scroll down) has just published a new edition of Calletania, making the book available again (though mainly in Europe). This is the third in their republications of Centeno’s earlier work. The contrast between the novel’s particular universe and Venezuela’s current political labyrinth isn’t coincidental, as much of Centeno’s Calletania carries a prophetic tone when read from our present situation. Socialism is the central idea enacted and debated in these pages, without losing literature’s sense of play and didactic purpose. Though, finally, it’s the book’s language that enchants with its routine elegance:
“Nights in the neighborhood are yellow. They’re illuminated by tall iron streetlights lost in the early afternoon light, in the density of midnight, in dawn’s lightness. The slow voices of drunkards have remained bundled in the corners. The storefront doors make noise, automobile engines, the rain of bathrooms, cocks crowing, the echo of a few steps and the shadow of the man who steps. Washed, clean like this day that breathes, still undefined, because it’s too dark to see the sun, even though we’ve left behind the night’s dense world.” (101)