La melancolía de los feos, by Mario Mendoza
“La melancolía de los feos” (the Melancholy of the ugly) was the book I picked during my second month in Bogota, as my second Colombian reading. Written in 20216 by the Bogotan author Mario Mendoza, its story is moving, exciting, inspiring. Here is why.
The protagonist of La melancolía de los feos is León Soler, a single, childless psychiatrist in his late thirties. He is obsessed with his job and trapped in an unhappy, lonely routine.
Until the day he receives an unexpected letter in his office.
Devoid of a return address, the letter only has a drawing of a bat holding a sign saying “The Melancholy”. It’s the same term by the artist Dürer in his famous engraving.
That letter is only the first one of many.
They all come from Soler’s old friend, Alfonso Rivas.
Through the letters that Alfonso, a dwarf, ugly and hunchbacked man, sends to León, a journey across time and the memories begins.
This journey re-invokes and re-inhabits childhood moments and spaces, through the lenses of both adulthood and childhood.
The epistolary reunion with Alfonso generates in León a need to look for his friend. This urge brings him to navigate through Alfonso’s past, scattered between the city’s brothels, psychiatric hospitals and dusty libraries. Leon slowly starts to get to know his friend through the memories of other people.
Soler doesn’t know it, but this quest for Alfonso will take him to his own depths, to rediscover his true sense of belonging.
Where do we come from and where are we going?
The novel explores the value of friendship, desire, loyalty and memory. It speaks of beings that inhabit bodies to which they feel they do not belong. This is the quintessence of melancholy.
But there is more. Melancholy, according to the author, is the result of the societal system we inhabit:
“I have been looking at people who are marginalised, not necessarily because of social or economic issues. One can be marginalised by (and not due to) depression. The system can be rather aggressive and the most intense violence that we suffer is trans-political violence. That is, the violence of the system, by the establishment” wrote Mario Mendoza.
Those who may be labelled as the privileged, “beautiful people” – the leaders, the beautiful – do not exceed 3 percent of the population. “The left 97 percent are the sample of all the Colombian classism. That’s where you see bullying, gender based-violence, systematic racism”.
These 97 percent are the depressed, deformed, anorexic, mentally ill, hoarder individuals. But beyond the structural appearances, they are brilliant, and creative – great artists, virtuous writers, models, successful students. They are powerful.
They are the protagonists because they are powerful. And power is rooted in that duality that inhabits us all.