Friday, August 30, 2013



  by  ConsueloTomas Fitzgerald

Manuel Lasso and I do not know each other personally, but there is no need for it. Years ago, when we were young and
full of projects and courage, we began to exchange letters on behalf of literature which continues until today. I am delighted to contribute with this interview so that more people could become interested in reading this magnificent novel which reveals to us a writer by trade, a good one, one who will surely transcend. Neither of us live from our artistic work, but the truth is that we live for it.

CTF. To undertake the adventure of writing a novel is always the beginning of a journey into the unknown. Why exactly did you choose to tell about the life of this torturer? Was it the fascination with evil, despite the aversion we have for it?

ML. Not necessarily. The truth is that Klaus Barbie was always an enigma for me. Invariably,  I was exposed to indirect news about his existence. When I was a child, he lived in a house next to mine. We never knew that he was the Butcher of Lyon. Obviously he was hiding and we never found out the true details of this neighbor. All we knew was that he was a German who liked to raise purebred dogs and that he was a very bad man. That was all. On Sunday afternoons we heard blaring military marches coming from his house which we could not recognize. Now I am convinced that they were Third Reich marches which the Nazi armies  used to parade and celebrate in the cities of Germany. We were separated by a huge white brick wall. The water of our garden passed to his garden by a hole in the wall which someone had made so big that it  would allow three people to pass   together at the same time. In our innocence, I along with my brothers, entered into his yard and amused ourselves with a playground that was available there. But we never saw him. I think that if he had seen us he would have shot at us as it happened in the torture chamber in the chapter of the novel entitled The Visitors. And we would have turned around from the wall  hole and shouted at him: "Death to Hitler! Death to Hitler!" Afterwards we moved out and we did not know about Barbie anymore until a decade later, when he was discovered and his face was published in all the newspapers of that epoch. In this way this war criminal became a mystery to me which pricked my curiosity and exacerbated my obsessions. I had lived so close to him, however I knew nothing about this monster summoned to the court of history. That is when I began a long and painstaking research. Afterwards came the idea of ​​writing a novel about him.

CTF. Would you consider The Butcher of Lyon as a historical novel?

ML. It is historical only in regards to the character of Barbie and the basic structure of the novel. The plot, characters and conflicts are inventions of the author. It is known that the Nazis tortured innocent victims and murdered millions of innocent people in the cruelest  imaginable way and then took refuge in Latin America where they continued committing more crimes. That is the central idea, the essential structure, the bare skeleton of the story. The love scenes, the episodes of torture and executions are inventions of the narrator. Maybe there is an approximation to what happened in real life, but in this case it is the product of the author's imagination. Similarly, the scene of the French woman and her bike, Odette and her jealousy, the German woman who attempts to commit suicide, the journey on the steam boat Corrientes,  Barbie strolling at the Plaza San Martin, the Republican Iván González reciting Miguel Hernandez's verses while being drowned by Barbie, the meeting of Rudolf Hess with Marshal Von Paulus when they were  frog jumping in the garden of the Spandau Military Prison, Manuelita Sanchez and her attempts to avenge her father's death are  the creations of the author's wit . A historical novel recreates events as they really happened. This novel, as a work of fiction, does not meet any historical requirement. It is free and the author can invent whatever he wishes. It is for the literary critics to read this work and give us the real category.

CTF. One of the things that strikes me is the rhythm. It seems to have been written in one sitting, without breathing, in a state of exaltation. Did you?

ML. It was written in a state of unconsciousness, in a mental state of deep concentration, much like a dream, which now I can not remember. I can recall the moments of research and collection of information. But the moment of creation and writing escapes my memory. What I recall is that after the composition I had two manuscripts, one in Spanish and the other in English. The only thing I was thinking about was the way to publish them.

CTF. The details. How do you achieve that level of detail so accurate, almost  cinematic, in the characters of that time? The almost microscopic neatness of the details of the Wehrmacht officers clothing, the accuracy of the musical tastes of the executioners of high rank, the atmosphere of absurdity? What roads (readings, photographs, testimonials) did you follow?

ML. First,  there was a period of an almost unending  and intense research. But at the time of the composition the text was written as you read it. I saw in my mind all the scenes with great transparency and  I heard the voices of the characters and the melodies very clearly. What I did was to describe what I saw and heard in my mind, as if it had already been prepared within my subconscious. This is seen in all the states of creation of all arts. When you ask an artist how he was able to draw a picture so similar to the real model, he will say that his brain works in that way. He simply moved his pencil or his paintbrush and the image appeared as it was. When Mozart was asked about the way he composed his concerts he replied saying that his melodies, already made and refined, appeared in his mind and that he wrote the musical notes on the pentagram before he could forget them. It is the same with the poets; many times when the poet is writing a poem another verse appears in his mind, already composed and he simply writes it up. If someone changes a single letter in these verses the artistic miracle disappears. William Faulkner used to say that when he was writing a novel he had to chase his characters with the tip of his pencil before they disappeared and that he was unaware of the place from which  all his scenes came out.

CTF. The humor. How can you get the reef of the humor from the absolute absurdity of war? (I particularly remember the passage of the French woman and her bike or the Hitler young boys  who did not know how to use their rifles.)

ML. Humor is part of my mind. My brain is just like that and continuously creates scenes full of humor. When I'm writing a letter or an article or a chapter of a novel, my brain creates immediately, without wishing or desiring it, humorous situations.

CTF. The absurd. Because of all the cliché around the figure of Hitler and his minions (still clean, cold, arrogant) how some characters like Hans Auerbach, "magician, mentalist and circus escapist", slip or the Oyonnax Mayor, leader of the French Resistance, becomes  untraceable despite his colored pants?

ML. This novel is a great mockery. It makes fun of  the Nazis and their  megalomaniac ideas. It's a great laugh. During the last years of the war, when Hitler was convinced that everything was lost, he did not have enough men to cover all the fronts and he had to indoctrinate the German children in a hurry  and dress them like soldiers. He had to recruit any adult, regardless of their occupation and dress them like generals. The Auerbach case is an example. It is an invented character, but it is very close to the German reality of that time. The Oyonnax Mayor appeared naturally during the writing of the novel. It is the symbol of the French resistance which eventually becomes a myth. It is part of the artistic creation. Actually it is the subconscious the one that is creating all this to propel it to the conscious field. Why does this happen? I have no explanation.

CTF. The woman. Odette is what you call a "collaborator" whose end is predictable. She is able to ignore the activity of the torturer and capable of withdrawing him from it. What could the novel lose without Odette? Is she the one that shows the weak point of the indomitable Lieutenant? The one that takes him out of balance? The one who removes him from its potential stereotype to make him more human, beastly,  but still human?

ML. Odette is a victim of her falling in love, something that can happen to anyone. She fell in love with Barbie and blinded herself. She could only see the good in him. She was not interested in the way he mistreated his prisoners or in the way he beat them to death with an iron bar or drowned them in a sink of water. She is his antithesis and the confirmation that, after all, these criminals are normal human beings like anyone else. These genocides are not ogres or annoyed Polyphemuses who walk around all day with a stick on their shoulders. Hitler, for example, when he was in his Berghoff in the company of his aides showed much affection and tenderness for children and pets, cared about the welfare of his common-law wife Eva Braun and his closest friends. Only when he retired to his office, broke with his reality and delivered himself viciously to the planning of the most horrific and inhuman crimes that have occurred in history. The same could be said of Stalin who committed other heinous genocide against his fellow Russians. He loved his wives and adored the only daughter he had. But on the way to his office he became cold and criminal. He disintegrated himself and sitting at his desk began to write a long list with the names of the people who were going to be killed that day. In that respect he was a genius. In the case of Barbie it is known that he was extremely affectionate with his children and his wife and when they died they were great tragedies for him. But when he was going to torture prisoners he became cold and indiferent and was ready to commit any atrocity. It is shown that in the case of Odette he loved her until the end when he sees her image at the time of his death. The same could be said about Pinochet and Videla in Chile and Argentina. Odette then exposes the emotional side of the character but ultimately has to pay dearly for it.

CTF. The novel is full of oniric details, beyond the dreams of the torturer with Roman emperors and vengeful specters. Talking Birds, interrupting the torture of a prisoner. Are these images an example that the surreal fits perfectly in the madness of war?

ML. We can say this, but it does not necessarily have to be this way. In this case the oniric scenes happen frequently in this novel because it was written in a  dream-like state.

CTF. The end of war and Hitler's defeat, were so terrible for the German people  who did not take sides during the conflict. It was a moment when every man was for himself and this is masterfully told in chapter 12. But in this dance of horror, the destiny of women is very deplorable. Why the emphasis on this detail?

ML. The assault of women happens at the end of every war when a nation loses. It's like the last act of hostility and brutality against the opponent. Instead of devouring the defeated enemy the victor rapes the women. It is the tragic and ignominious end of all wars. It has happened  since the beginning of history. One notorious example occurred in Carthage when Scipion defeated Hannibal and the first thing the Roman soldiers did was to grab the women they liked most. The winners, in abstinence and in need for revenge, satisfy their natural instincts with women who are at that moment helpless and without any male that can protect them. In the case of Berlin the Russian generals were the ones who gave this order to his soldiers as a revenge for what Hitler's blond beasts did with the Russians during the siege of Stalingrad, raping the women, being children or elderly and using prisoners as targets for shooting practice with their machine guns. All this was the most primitive and cavernous demonstration of what the European race is capable of doing. This emphasis  also demonstrates that there is no racial superiority as Hitler had proclaimed because no superior nation could be defeated or humiliated in such an execrable way. It is also a warning to some belligerent countries who believe that going to war is the greatest act, the most heroic feat they can perform for their citizens when in fact it may be the most infamous and disastrous. Finally it is a warning to the military who have an exaggerated confidence in themselves. Every war is serious and the final price that civilians have to pay can be very terrible. It is a rebuke to all those little unbalanced generals, feeble-minded cock fighters, who are looking for the slightest excuse to start a merciless war, whether nuclear or not, without thinking  of what might happen to the civilian population in the end. No war is great, all are rather terrible and we should refrain from them.

CTF. Manuel, thank you very much for this interview and I'm sure the novel will undoubtedly be a success.


You may find a copy of The Butcher of Lyon in

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