The Pelcari Project/

Rights Reverted

Cárcel de árboles

cover illustration by Leon Golub
ISBN 0-932274-48-X

by Rodrigo Rey Rosa

translated by Paul Bowles
117 PAGES. 5¼" x 8"
first American edition 1997, bilingual
Afterword by Paul Bowles
English and Spanish texts
en face

Rodrigo Rey Rosa is a young Guatemalan writer and the author of several books, including The Path Doubles Back, The Beggar's Knife, and Dust On Her Tongue.

Paul Bowles is an internationally acclaimed novelist, translator and composer, author of numerous works, including The Sheltering Sky, the novel brought so brilliantly to film by Bernardo Bertolucci. Bowles has translated Cárcel de árboles with his usual precision, and also written an afterword.

The cover illustration reproduces Leon Golub's Interrogation II.

Title and colophon page photography by Lenora F. Watson.

A simple country doctor stumbles onto the hideous medical experiments being forcibly carried out on political prisoners at a secret jungle prison camp . . . And thus begins a glimpse into the darkest side of the human condition.

This landmark in the literature of contemporary Latin America—which might best be compared with Franz Kakfa's The Penal Colony or H. G. Welles' The Island of Dr. Moreau—is a short, nightmarish parable about an experiment in political indoctrination in Central America: it is as much concerned with language and silence as it is with civilization and barbarism, with human dignity as it is with tyranny.

This is Rey Rosa's first extended work and the first of his maturity—one which might serve as metaphor for the last 30 years of history in his country and Central America. It has been published to acclaim in Latin America, Spain, France and England.

About the Book

Ably translated from Spanish by Paul Bowles, Rodrigo Rey Rosa's The Pelcari Project (Cárcel de árboles) is a masterful, bilingual novella showcasing in fiction that all too real human rights abuse issue so much a part of the international political debates. The Pelcari Project would serve well for a television “movie of the week”, bringing home for Americans the realities of political oppression throughout the third world, and not unknown in some of the developed countries as well. The informative Afterword by Paul Bowles further enhances this Cadmus Editions version for an American readership.

— James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief / Diane Donovan, Editor


Rosa's theme in this fiction examines the effect language has on consciousness, and vice versa. The main character experiments with his own language awareness while realizing his role in a Latin American experimental prison camp. He, like the 34 other prisoners, has mysteriously lost his ability to make all but one sound, yet he alone discovers his retention of writing ability. Eventually he risks sharing this revelation with a fellow inmate who makes the same self-discovery. Together they find that their memory is sustained only by reading previous entries into a notebook they hide from the prison guards. The purpose of their limited facilities, they conclude, is merely to produce menial daily tasks.

Because of the sadistic mind control imposed by the government upon the prisoners, The Pelcari Project has a “Big Brother” feel to it. Rosa weaves a dark tale of what is possible of a government and how far will it go to regiment its masses. In the end, regardless of the mental and physical restrictions imposed on the prisoners, they have an innate desire to be liberated that can't be surgically removed.

This is a captivating story and a quick read. It is written in Spanish, translated to English by Paul Bowles. I highly recommend it.

— T. Lynne, August 1997


This vivid and cruel novella is without the least doubt or argument the work of a great writer.

— Pierre Lepape


Rodrigo Rey Rosa deftly collapses the frontier that lies between consciousness and unconsciousness, language and silence, civilization and barbarism . . . a reminder that makers of myth are alive and well in the nuclear age.


Rodrigo Rey Rosa seems to share Dario's faith in the liberating power of literature, however muted by the experience of exile and the resurgence of extreme violence in Guatemala.

— Erica Segre


also by Paul Bowles
No eye looked out from any crevice
Tennessee Williams in Tangier
She Woke Me Up So I Killed Her
Paul Bowles reads A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard
Paul Bowles's musique concrète The Pool K III