The Good Cripple

The Good Cripple

by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Esther Allen

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This muscular, starkly impressive novel from Guatemala's premiere young writer fiercely addresses the seemingly endless violence of Latin America.
A young man, Juan Luis Luna, is kidnapped in Guatemala City and held at the bottom of a rusty, empty underground fuel tank in an abandoned gas station. The kidnappers demand a ransom; his rich father does not reply.


This muscular, starkly impressive novel from Guatemala's premiere young writer fiercely addresses the seemingly endless violence of Latin America.
A young man, Juan Luis Luna, is kidnapped in Guatemala City and held at the bottom of a rusty, empty underground fuel tank in an abandoned gas station. The kidnappers demand a ransom; his rich father does not reply. The kidnappers threaten to cut off his son's foot and still hear nothing. They then slice off one of Juan Luis's toes and send it to his father, who still refuses to act. So the next day... The Good Crippleobsessively focused, chilling, allegorical is stunningly explosive. With its enigmatic beginning, however, and its circular relentless structure, the novel is also dense with ideas: can one be whole after mutilation? Can the injured transcend violence? Rodrigo Rey Rosa's style is of a lithe pristine clarity, but beneath that calm surface cruelty, revenge, and diffidence churn darkly away. The Good Cripple is an astonishingly intense book, and as unforgettable as the sight of "the place where the foot had been severed, where a circle of red flesh, now a little black along the edges, could be seen, with a concentric circle of white bone that was both milky and glassy..."

Editorial Reviews

“A writer of unprecedented originality, of an exigency that removes him from any common standing. Essential and necessary.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
“Audacious, magical...a marvel of poetic efficiency and power. Rey Rosa deftly collapses the frontier that lies between consciousness and unconsciousness, language and silence, civilization and barbarism.”
The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A sense of violent unease shading into terror drifts up from every line...his writing has a sharp, almost sadistic edge.”

Product Details

New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Good Cripple

By Rodrigo Rey Rosa

A New Directions Book

Copyright © 1996 Rodrigo Rey Rosa
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8112-1566-0

Chapter One

Laughing silently, Bunny watched through the little window in the entryway as he got in the car and drove away. "Not much of a man," he told himself. "If I were him, I wouldn't have thought twice about shooting me or hitting me in the back of the neck with that cane he has. That's probably what he meant to do, but he chickened out."

He walked away from the window, poured himself a whiskey at the minibar in a corner of the living room, then sat back down on the sofa. But what if Juan Luis had only come to hear his suspicions confirmed, and would now have him killed?

"I'll have to hide again," he thought, feeling tired, and memories of the kidnapping started running through his mind. He felt guilty, but only in part. He wasn't lying when he'd claimed the whole thing was El Horrible's idea. It hadn't struck him as a bad one, at first. His biggest contribution had been bringing in Carlomagno and the Sephardi, both of whom he'd met by chance, the Sephardi at a wedding, and Carlomagno in a seedy cantina.

He'd let himself be dragged into that disastrous adventure out of youthful recklessness, and though he'd made up the story about brain damage, it was true that time had transformed him. He'd had a little bit of luck, in the end. His wife, while no beauty, was truly a good woman, and his children brought him a lot of happiness; they'd restored his love for his parents and for respectability.

If Juan Luis had the nerve to kill him, Bunny thought bitterly, at least it would have saved him from the tormenting thought that his parents or children might some day find out about the whole story. If at least he'd gotten rich off it ... But he was even poorer than his parents, and that was his greatest sorrow.

He'd been ready to let Juan Luis kill him, he now realized. Juan Luis was incapable of it, and Bunny understood that it wasn't goodness which kept him from doing it, but deep contempt. "He might still kill me," he repeated to himself. "Can't let my guard down." He went to the kitchen to leave the empty glass in the dishwasher and told the servant, "Chi yoo sa li tenamit".

"Us," she replied without raising her eyes from the cutting board where she was dismembering a hen.

Bunny left his house and walked to the center of town to use one of the public phones in the long archway that ran along the front of the town hall. He dialed the area code for Coban and the number of the cantina on the road to Carcha that belonged to Carlomagno.

"¡Vos, hombre!" Carlomagno's voice exclaimed. "What a surprise." He laughed. "Something bad must be going on, for you to call me."

"Guess who came to see me today."

"The Sephardi," Carlomagno said immediately, and Bunny could hear the fear in his voice.

"Close," said Bunny. "Juan Luis."


"Of course Luna."

"And? What did he want?"

"Pues, I don't know. I was about to ask if he'd been to see you."

"No. I didn't even know he was around. Wasn't he living in Africa?"

"He came back a while ago."

"How did he manage to find you?"

"My mother."

"Hadn't you warned her?"

"Yeah, sort of. But not much gets through to her any more, poor woman. Listen, I think the guy's up to something. It looks to me as if he wants to settle the score, after all this time. For the foot-"

"I haven't forgotten. What are we going to do?"

"Be on the lookout. And stay in touch. I'll check with the capi's friends and see if there's an arrest warrant out with our names on it, or a contract, ya sabés."

"Well, keep me posted."

"And you keep me posted. The main thing is not to let them take us by surprise."

"Apart from that, how are things over in Salcaja?"

"All right, thanks. And in Coban?"

"Pasandola. Listen, Don Chusito's just come in-he's asking for a beer."

"I'll let you go, then, ingrate."

"Adiós, Bunny. Thanks for the call."

How strange, Bunny thought as he walked to the cantina on the corner of the plaza, that his contact with the others was like that: a series of threads cut off and reconnected at random. Carlomagno. Juan Luis. The damned Sephardi. Now there was a man he'd like to kill, even if it was too late to get any of the money back. He thought fleetingly of his children. He'd wanted to give them a good education, to move to Mexico City, for example, or Buenos Aires, as he'd once dreamed, rather than Salcaja.

He went into the cantina, walked to the bar and ordered a cold beer. He drank it standing at the bar, paid, and went back to the archway to make another call, this time to a lawyer's office in Zone Four of Guatemala City.

"Pedro, how you doing?"

"Ah, Bunny. What, you're in trouble again?"

"You remember that client, why bother naming the name- about eleven years ago."

"No! What's with him?"

"He came to see me, here in Salcaja."

"What did he want."

"To talk."

"About what."

"Everything that happened."

"And you did him the favor."

"Pues, I did."

"You talk too much, hombre. Where are you calling from?"


"Not from your house, I hope."

"No. From town hall."

The lawyer hung up or the call was disconnected, Bunny wasn't sure. He called back.

"I'm in no mood for joking around, señor"-and the lawyer hung up on him again.

That Monday, Bunny went to Guatemala City, claiming he needed to pay a visit to his mother. He called the lawyer from the Galgos bus terminal and they arranged to meet in a bar in Pasaje Rubio, near the Palacio Nacional.

The lawyer was waiting for him, sitting at a table for two next to the door, under a rod of neon light. He had pale, oily skin and fish eyes, and his threadbare moustache seemed deliberately calculated to give him the look of a crook.

"Hola, genius," he said.

Bunny put his overnight bag on the floor and sat down with a guilty smile. "What?"

The lawyer spoke in a low voice, "How many times have I told you that Don Luna was never going to give this one a rest, Bunny-boy. To this very day, special agents are going to Salcaja and Coban all the time. You and Carlomagno are watched even more closely than I am. The old man never gets tired of shelling out the money, even if it's only for the pleasure of confirming that people's habits don't change much. I bet you he knows exactly which of the whores in Las Flores you've had. He can give in to his urge any day he decides to. I imagine he hasn't gotten enough hard evidence yet to do what he wants. But if you've told his son ..."

"Yes," Bunny acknowledged. "I said too much. But he already knew."

"You can be sure every payphone in Salcaja is bugged. You love to shoot your mouth off, my dumb Bunny-boy."

"No, seriously, you shit. What am I supposed to do now?"

The lawyer laughed.

"Defend yourself, amigo. Defend yourself."

They drank their beers.

"Hide out a while," the lawyer advised. "Starting right now."

Bunny glanced at his overnight bag, which held only two changes of clothing, and the thought that he wouldn't be going home for quite a while depressed him. But he wasn't going to let himself get caught, not after all this time. The laws had changed. They could shoot him today for something he'd done more than ten years ago. That didn't seem like justice to him. He'd have to warn Carlomagno; if he got picked up, it would be bad news. He'd give him a call after leaving the bar, he thought.

"Do you have enough money to get by?" the lawyer asked.


"Then you are really fucked."

"Loan me a little cash, tigre."

"A little is all you'll get," the tiger replied. "But you know the story: with interest."


"Come by my office later. And keep your eyes peeled." He put a five-quetzal bill down next to his empty beer glass, stood up, and said goodbye.

Bunny turned off Pasaje Rubio onto Novena Calle with his bag slung over his shoulder and one hand in his pocket where he had two twenty-five centavo coins. He crossed the street and went to a phone box that stood at the door of a bakery.

"Carlomagno? Mira, it looks like there's some danger. Auntie is ill and it's contagious. She's got to see the doctor. Okay?"


"So a vacation, starting now."


"Yes. Va-ca-tion."

Then he called home in Salcaja.

"Hola, cuchi. Got bad news for you."

"What happened?"

"Mama's not doing so well. I'm going to stay a few days and help out as much as I can. To make matters worse, the phone's broken. And I may have to take a little trip to Coban before I get back home. There's some land for sale. I spoke to a potential buyer today. I want to get the commission."

"Let's hope so, mi amor."

"I'll call you. Kiss the kids for me."

The lawyer was exaggerating, thought Bunny, sitting in one of the front seats of the Monjablanca Pullman that was advancing noisily through the night toward El Rancho, where it would turn and continue along the mountain range to Salama and Coban. There would have been enough time for him to go back to Salcaja and get his things so he could take this trip like a decent person, he said to himself coldly, his eyes fixed on the patch of light that the Monjablanca bus cast on the road.

When he got off at the central plaza in Coban it was almost midnight. He went straight down Calle Empinada to the Hostal de los Acuña where the staff all knew him from the time he was still convalescing after the explosion that cost El Horrible and the Tapir their lives, when he'd come to Coban to see Carlomagno. Out of some strange sense of loyalty, Carlomagno had sent an emissary to Bunny when he learned Bunny was still alive and in the hospital, and had given him a fifth of his share of the ransom. "After all," Bunny-who didn't understand, either, why the Sephardi had duly given Carlomagno his share-told himself, "I'm the one who made the connection for him." He'd spent a month in Coban and even started thinking about staying on and living there, partly because he was embarrassed by the scar that cut across his temple. But then he met his wife, who owned two houses and a granary in Salcaja, and that changed his luck.

Efraín, a young Kekchí who was Evangelical one year and Catholic the next, put him in room number one, which had a double bed rather than bunks.

"There's no tourism, no tourism," he said. "It's been exactly a year since they lynched that gringa in San Cristóbal, and they're celebrating." He laughed.

"Do you still serve breakfast?"

"Of course."

"Send mine up at eight, por favor."

"La Luvia will bring it to you."

"She's still here?"

"Still here." He looked serious, then smiled.

"I'm glad," said Bunny and sat down on the bed.

"Buenas noches, señor." Efraín stepped back into the hallway and shut the door.

Bunny lay down on the bed with all his clothes on and for a moment felt much younger than he was. It was doing him good to get away from the family, even for just a few days. The swarm of memories stirred by Juan Luis's visit had put him back in the state of mind he'd been in eleven years ago. He sat up on the bed, reached for the overnight bag on the floor and took out a small plastic bag of marijuana, then dug a rolling paper from his wallet. After patiently separating out the stems and seeds like a connoisseur, he rolled himself a joint. He stood up and opened the window a crack so he could toss out the stems and seeds and blow the smoke out toward the back garden.

Defend yourself, the lawyer had said; it was the only thing he could do. The bitter taste of frustrated talent was in his throat; the marijuana was making him daydream about plans he had never carried out. "Bah," he exclaimed as he stubbed out the roach which was starting to burn him. He crumbled it between his fingertips and threw it out the window. Life was like that.

What luck that Luna had. He'd been dead, practically, but now he was alive, and not only did he have money to burn and a beautiful wife, he was also a writer, which entitled him to act like some kind of superior being. The disdain he had emanated during the few minutes his visit lasted! But the thing that most wounded Bunny's self-esteem was the memory of his own admiration for Juan Luis as he serenely inquired about the details of the kidnapping: Juan Luis had seemed like a truly wise person.

"He won't have us killed now," and a twisted smile formed on his face. "All he has to do is have us arrested."

In Guatemala City, after making a call to Salcaja, Bunny had taken a taxi to his mother's house in Ciudad Vieja. He had a key to the front gate and went in without knocking. It was noon, so the gardener wasn't there, and Bunny took advantage of his absence to do what he'd come to do. He went into the garage where the telephone box was, lifted its metal lid, and stuck his hand inside to disconnect one of the cables. Then he walked around the side of the house and in the front door, calling, "Hola mama! Where are you?"

The old woman came out of the kitchen wearing a radiant smile, her glasses fogged with steam.

"Mijo, what a surprise."

Bunny put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her forehead.

"How are you? And papa?"

"You know, so-so. He's in bed again. Depression."


"What brings you here?"

"Business. I'm going to have to go to Coban. There's a little finca for sale and I have a client who's interested in buying some land around there. I've been offered a commission."

"I'm so glad, mijo. The way things are, verdad. Everything so expensive. How much more can we take? I worry a lot about all of you. The children, especially."

"Don't worry, mama. We'll come out of it, little by little. We could be worse off."

"It's too bad you didn't bring the patojos. I could have taken care of them while you went to Coban. They probably don't remember me now. They must have grown so much-who knows if I'd recognize them."

"Of course they remember you. But it's true, they're growing very fast. I'll bring them along next time."

The old woman glanced at her watch and began making her way towards the kitchen.

"The noodles are ready," she said. "Are you having lunch with me?"

The double bed in the Hostal de los Acuña was in bad shape and he had to change position several times before he was finally comfortable enough to fall asleep. At eight o'clock, when Luvia knocked at the door with breakfast, he wasn't hungry because of his nerves, but he was already bathed, dressed, and ready to go out.

"Buenos días, Don Armando," Luvia said with the same smile as ever. She had very little white hair and her skin was still young. "It's a long time since you've been back here."

"How are you, Luvia. I'm glad to see you."

"Are you staying a few days?"

"No, afraid not.


Excerpted from The Good Cripple by Rodrigo Rey Rosa Copyright © 1996 by Rodrigo Rey Rosa. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Rodrigo Rey Rosa was born in Guatemala in 1958. Rey Rosa has based many of his writings and stories on legends and myths that are indigenous to Latin American as well as North Africa. Out of all of his works, there have only been four that have appeared in the English language. In the early 1980s, Rey Rosa went to Morocco and became a literary protege of American expatriate writer Paul Bowles, who later became on of Rey Rosa’s English translators. When Bowles died in 1999, Rey Rosa became an executor of his literature works. He currently lives in Guatemala City.

Esther Allen has translated Javier Marias, Jorge Luis Borges, Felisberto Hernandez, Flaubert, Rosario Castellanos, Blaise Cendrars, Marie Darrieussecq, and Jose Marti. She is currently a professor at Baruch College (CUNY) and has directed the work of the PEN Translation Fund since its founding in 2003. Allen has received a Fulbright Grant (1989), a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship (1995), and was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters (2006).

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