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Human Matter

Human Matter
A Fiction

In this provocative novel from an award-winning Guatemalan storyteller, a fiction writer dangerously delves into the long-buried National Police archive, exposing the legacies of systematic brutality and resistance.

Series: Latin American Literature in Translation

Sales restrictions: Not for sale in the Commonwealth (except Canada)
June 2019
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192 pages | 5 x 8 |

More than a decade ago, novelist Rodrigo Rey Rosa made his first visit to the Historical Archive of the Guatemala National Police, where millions of previously hidden records were being cataloged, scanned, and eventually published online. Bringing to light detailed evidence of crimes against humanity, the Archive Recovery Project inspired Rey Rosa to craft a meta-novel that weaves the language of arrest records and surveillance reports with the contemporary journal entries of a novelist (named Rodrigo) who is attempting to synthesize the stories of political activists, indigenous people, and other women and men who became ensnared in a deadly web of state-sponsored terrorism.

When Rodrigo's access to the archive is suspended, he proceeds to the General Archives of Central America and the Library of Congress, also collaborating with the son of the Identification Bureau's former head in a relentless pursuit of understanding. Reminiscent of Roberto Bolaño's finely honed masterworks, Human Matter is both a tour de force of fiction and a sobering meditation on the realities of collective memory, raising timely questions about how our history is recorded and retold.

Originally published in Spanish in 2009, its success demanded a subsequent publication in June of 2017.

  • Introduction
  • First Notebook: Modo & Modo
  • Second Notebook: Black Binding
    • Pages Attached to the Second Notebook
  • First Sketchbook: Green Cover with Indian Motifs
    • Pages Attached to the First Sketchbook
  • Third Notebook: White Cover
  • Second Sketchbook: Don Quixote
  • Fourth Notebook: Red and Blue Stripes on a White Background
    • Pages Attached to the Fourth Notebook
  • Third Sketchbook: “Scribe”
  • Fourth Sketchbook: Leather Cover, No Branding, No Name
  • Fifth Sketchbook: Spanish Binding
  • Author’s Note
  • Translator’s Acknowledgments

Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Guatemala City, Guatemala

Rey Rosa is the author of many acclaimed novels and short-story collections, among them Severina and La orilla africana (The African Shore) . He is the recipient of one of Guatemala’s most distinguished literary prizes, the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature, as well as the prestigious José Donoso Prize.


“Secrecy lies at the heart of the story, manifesting itself in many ways…Of a piece with the author's Dust on Her Tongue (1992) as an exploration of political violence and its troubling reverberations.”

“Human Matter makes the non-Latin American reader ask herself things that she…would not have otherwise. It delicately illuminates some of the pressure points of Guatemalan intellectual history and introduces a number of roles that have obsessed the country: the Indian, the police officer, the informer, the turncoat.”
3:AM Magazine

“Rey Rosa, a Guatemalan writer often compared to Roberto Bolano…was inspired to write a meta-novel about his experiences [visiting Guatemala's National Police archive] and the stories he uncovered. The result…reads like the journal of a heartbroken researcher who stumbles on the darkest truths about his native country.”
Chicago Tribune

“Rey Rosa’s novel is defined by frailty, the sensation of the uncertain, those small ways of escaping the suffocating Central American reality, the distance between what was and what is possible to feel.”
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