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Y Matarazo no llamo.

Eugenio Yanez leads a boring, solitary life. An office worker in his fifties, Yanez lives alone in an apartment in Mexico City. He was married for four years to a woman he hasn't seen in twenty - so long that he can no longer remember what she looked like. His mother died when he was ten. His brother and sister are too involved with their own families to bother with him. His school friends, now successful professionals or politicians, spurn him. His office mates treat him with contempt - or, at least, that's what he thinks. While the younger men move up the company ladder, Yanez remains at the same desk day after day, year after year, trapped in his monotonous, lonely existence.

And then, suddenly, everything changes. One night Yanez wanders out in the middle of a political demonstration. When he overhears some striking workers complain that they need a smoke, he buys assorted brands of cigarettes and distributes them to the men. The workers immediately begin to treat him as one of their own, calling him companero (comrade) and including him in their activities. Flattered by their attention, Yanez allows himself to be used. For the first time he feels like he belongs to a group; for the first time, he feels useful. But before he knows it, he has been sucked into a vertiginous whirlwind of events that will change his destiny.

Yanez realizes almost immediately that he is caught between warring factions of workers. Who can he trust? Unexpectedly he begins to receive strange, insulting calls on the phone. Two of his "comrades," Tito and Pedro, accompanied by a stranger named Matarazo, appear without warning at his apartment. Pedro is bleeding profusely and leaves stains on Yanez's furniture. The two "comrades" make their get-away to the North, promising to let Yanez and Matarazo know when they have arrived safely. Soon after, a curious caller warns that a wounded man will be deposited with Yanez for safekeeping, and before he knows it, Eugenio finds a mangled near-corpse on his doorstep. Again Yanez finds himself scrubbing out incriminating blood stains. Now the insipid office worker is caught up in a world of conspiracy, intrigue and treason, and there seems to be no way out.

Although there are obvious political overtones to this novel, the focus is on the psychological evolution of Yanez. Y Matarazo no llamo ... is reminiscent of Franz Kafka's The Castle and The Trial and Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities in that all depict characters who are swept along by unpredictable, inexplicable circumstances that constitute a kind of "machine of misfortune" that, once in gear, is impossible to stop. Although they are innocent of the crimes of which they are accused, these characters suffer a sense of guilt that, in turn, produces acute feelings of alienation. The awareness that others may know of their predicament makes them paranoid and leads them to make irrational choices, which increases their appearance of guilt, which then alienates them all the more. Thus, they are trapped in a vicious circle from which there is no exit.

At first Yanez finds his new life exhilarating. The class struggle in which his "comrades" are involved inspires him to interpret politically his resentment for his boss Gomez, who is more than fifteen years his junior but who made it to the top, according to Yanez, through "connections." However, Yanez is not really a political animal and soon the novelty of being an "accomplice" wears off. He had started out by performing a gesture of good will - buying cigarettes for some weary workers. Now he is stuck with a moribund stranger in his apartment, and if the man does indeed die, Yanez will be left holding the bag. Furthermore, the man was carrying a gun, which Yanez has hidden in his apartment. Frantically Eugenio cares for the man, injecting him with penicillin and vitamins. He is too frightened to call a doctor, for any witness could be dangerous. At the office he is obsessed with the notion that his co-workers are spies. Yanez' only companion is Matarazo, a timid little man who visits him nightly to discuss the whereabouts of Tito and Pedro.

As Yanez feels the world closing in on him, he behaves more and more erratically. He perceives informants everywhere - at the office, in the street. He is certain two men in a black car watch him every night, and when Matarazo swears he hasn't seen them, even he becomes suspect. On the night the wounded man in Eugenio's keeping dies, Matarazo disappears. Yanez, certain the men in the black car are coming for him, flees Mexico City. But there is no way out of the trap; indeed, he himself has been tightening the screws with every irrational move. When he meets Matarazo again, it will be under the most tragic and absurd of circumstances.

Elena Garro, one of Mexico's foremost novelists, has produced a thriller with deep existential undercurrents. Although the story is set in Mexico, Yanez is a kind of archetypal modern man whose anguish and alienation are emblems of contemporary society. Written in 1960 but published now for the first time, Y Matarazo no llamo ... is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1992
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