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45 - Fantastic Latin America

The military veteran Aranda has lost his right hand in combat, but instead of burying it or disposing of it, he decides to dissect it and save it as memorabilia. To everyone's surprise, the hand comes to life. At first it disturbs them, then it is accepted as a member of the family, until it becomes an independent entity that seeks the meaning of its own existence.

In the comments we talk about pets preserved as memorabilia, the latest news and the life of today’s author.

This episode was produced with the support of PRX and the Google Podcast Creator Program.


"People were just talking about time. Despite all the protests Time wants us to be talked about him. Men's conversations are woven around this fundamental substance: time. Talking about time has been and will always be an irreducible trait of man. What is man? Man is a being who speaks of time with his fellowmen. For farmers and sailors, knowing how to talk about time is, of course part of the trade; knowing time is a mode of prophecy, and can even be a matter of life and death. For Ulysses, the most subtle of navigators, the wave and the wind are a constant concern."

(Source: Obras completas de Alfonso Reyes. Volumen III. El Cazador: I - Las grullas, el tiempo, y la política. Alfonso Reyes. Letras Mexicanas. Fondo de Cultura Económica. 1995. URL:



Hello! Dear listeners of Tres Cuentos, the bilingual podcast dedicated to the literary, historical, and traditional narratives of Latin America. I am Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, and today we welcome a new author, the Mexican writer Alfonso Reyes.

The opening paragraph was taken from the text Las grullas, el tiempo, y la política, (Cranes, time and politics) written by Alfonso Reyes.


I confess that today’s cuento at first fascinated me. It made me laugh so much, but the translation was another story. I remember bringing the text with me to my anniversary holiday, thinking it would be easy for me to translate it regardless of how long it was. However, while I was dying of boredom on the plane, I decided to take a look at the text, and that's when I realized the trouble, I had gotten myself into.

I thought about selecting another story. But since I had not brought any of the books I used for research, and had promised my husband to leave work behind, I had no choice but to accept my fate.

The Mexican writer Alfonso Reyes has that effect on me. Every time I read one of his stories, I say, “oh! This is a tough one!” Then it makes me laugh, and I want to read more.

Today's story "The hand of comandante Aranda," can be found in the book in Spanish Antología del Cuento Fantástico Hispanoamericano Siglo XIX, (Anthology of the Fantastic Hispanic American Short Story), selection by Óscar Hahn, published by Editorial Universitaria El Mundo de las Letras.

This very funny narration comes to us in the voice of my dear friend Don Hymel.

The military veteran Aranda has lost his right hand in combat, but instead of burying it or disposing of it, he decides to dissect it and save it as memorabilia. To everyone's surprise, the hand comes to life. At first it disturbs them, then it is accepted as a member of the family, until it becomes an independent entity that seeks the meaning of its own existence.

The hand of comandante Aranda

by Alfonso Reyes (Mexico)

Translated and adapted by Carolina Quiroga and Don Hymel

Read by Don Hymel

During the war, Comandante Benjamin Aranda lost a hand in combat, and, to make matters worse, it was his right hand. Curiously, some people collect hands of bronze, marble, crystal, or wood that were often statues and religious images or were just old door knockers. And if you think about it, don’t surgeons keep worse things in alcohol jars?

So, Comandante Aranda thought “Why not preserve my amputated hand as if it were an emblem of a glorious exploit? Why should the hand be worth less than the brain or the heart?”

We should ponder this for a minute ...Certainly, Aranda didn't ponder much over the subject. He did have something to rely upon, his faith and his belief in progress.

Christians would say that man, like an unformed doll, had been shaped in clay by the very hand of God. On the other hand, evolutionists would argue that man evolved by using his hands, and those hands have provided the world with a new natural order and a new kingdom – the kingdom of industries and arts.

When the walls of the Greek city of Thebes rose to the echo of Amphion's lyre, it was his brother Zethus, the bricklayer, who laid the stones by hand.

Thus, people who work with their hands -- blacksmiths and metalworkers -- appear in the ancient mythologies wrapped in magic vapors, like stewards of wonder. They are, indeed, "the hands delivering the fire" in Jose Clemente Orozco's mural.

In Diego Rivera's mural located in the Palace of Bellas Artes, the hand wields the celestial globe that encloses the powers of both creation and destruction.

And on the mural located in the Chapingo University, proletarian hands are ready to reclaim Earth's patrimony.

Finally, in Alfaro Siqueiros' painting, man is reduced to a pair of huge hands seeking the gift of reality, no doubt to remake it in his way. […]

In sum, the hand is a living metaphor that multiplies and extends the scope of man's achievements. The other senses are important, but passive. The sense of touch experiments and creates and from the spoils of the Earth, it builds the human order, oh! Son of man! […]

So, this lesser deity, the hand, finished the creation of man and allowed him to build the human world. Like the potter's hand shapes the jar, the hand shapes the planet, turns the potter's wheel, and opens the waterways of life. This delicate and powerful instrument possesses the most ingenious resources: hinges, tweezers, tongs, hooks, touch needles, bone chains, sails, oars, nerves, ligaments, pipes, cushions, valleys, mountains, and rivers. Simultaneously soft and hard, it possesses the power to crush and to caress, to threaten and to persuade, to direct, disorient, frighten, and encourage. What else can be said? […]

The hand has enabled us to enjoy the feeling of depth and weight, the perception of heaviness and the rootedness of gravity. It created the space for us and to it we owe the concept that the universe is not limited to only that which we may cast our eyes upon.

The hand is a wonderful flower of five petals that, like a mimosa, open and close at the slightest touch. So, could the number five be essential in the universal cosmos? Do these five fingers adorning the hand share the taxonomy of the wild rose, the forget-me-not, or the Scarlet Pimpernel? […]

Given all its strength, dexterity, and beauty, is it a fact stated without a doubt that a hand sacrificed in battle and sanctified by Heaven itself, is worthy of singular respect, deserves a place of honor in the home of Comandante Aranda?

And so, the hand was placed carefully in a padded case. The satin’s white creases supporting the phalanges, the palm, and the wrist, gave it the look of a tiny Alpine landscape. From time to time, those who were intimate to the Aranda’s family were granted the privilege of contemplating the hand – but just for a few moments. The hand was pleasant to look at. It was robust, intelligent, and somehow was able to grasp the hilt of the sword. In all ways, its preservation was perfect.

Little by little, what was once taboo – the mysterious object, the hidden talisman – became familiar. At some point, the padded case upon which the hand rested was moved from the “chest of wonders,” to a display cabinet in the living room. A place was made for it among the Comandante’s campaign medals.

In time, fingernails began to grow – a hint of a slow, dull, and somehow secret life. What at first seemed to be ornamental inertia, came to be seen as the hand’s virtue and desire. With a bit of repugnance, the house manicurist agreed to gently trim the fingernails each week. Thus, the hand was always well attended and composed.

But time began to change that. Since the ways of man include repurposing the statutes of deities into mere decoration, the hand changed status too. Its rank was downgraded; it ceased to be a relic and became instead an item of domestic curiosity. Within six months, it was being used as a paperweight to hold the manuscript sheets, especially now that comandante Aranda was writing his memoirs with his left hand. Due to the flexibility and plasticity of the severed hand, the fingers gently kept the position that they first held – oh! What a handy hand.

Although its cold nature made the hand repugnant to adults, the children of the house first lost their awe and, in time, began to respect it. In less than a year however, they were using it to scratch their backs and amused themselves by folding its fingers into rude gestures.

This lack of respect eventually caused the hand’s memories to waken. It remembered forgotten things. Its personality began to alter. First its conscience and then its character began to manifest. It stretched and elongated its tentacles. Soon it began moving like a tarantula. Every bit of dexterity enabled a new means of exploration. Then, one day, when the hand had, unaided, put on a glove and fitted a bracelet to its severed wrist, the hand became part of the family’s everyday life. It was no longer a curiosity, and its activities became – to the family – nothing remarkable.

It walked freely about the house, like a monstrous crab-shaped dog. Soon, it learned to scamper like a rabbit. It became able to flex its fingers, do squats and leap like a gymnast. Finally, one day it spread its fingers and, after some hesitancy, acquired the ability to fly.


At this point in the story, you may wonder, “How did the hand navigate the air? How did it see?” Ah! Well, certain wise men say there is a dark light, not sensed by the retina but by other organs, more so if they become specialized through sensorial education and exercise. […]

For example, Louis Farigoule - better known as the philosopher Jules Romains - noted that certain nerves whose real functions are ignored, can be found in the epidermis. Given this, he continued, vision sense could derive from movement in any part of the skin. It then follows that this sense could develop an eye. After several experiments, Farigoule postulated that it was possible for the blind to perceive light in different parts of their bodies, like their backs. If this were true, then why shouldn’t the hand be able to see? Given the hand’s sensitivity to touch, wasn’t it possible to use its fingertips as eyes to guide flight?

In the case of Comandante Aranda’s severed hand, as its new-found talents came to be ignored by the family, it became ungovernable and temperamental. It came and went as it pleased, disappeared when it desired, and returned when it fancied. It built castles of unbelievable stability using nothing but bottles and glasses. It was said that it could imbue these glasses with spirits, and then stay up all night drinking until it became inebriated.

It obeyed and was answerable to no-one. It was naughty and enjoyed mocking others. It pinched visitors’ noses and slammed the door on bill collectors. It would remain motionless, “pretending to be dead,” in front of those who still didn’t know it, and then suddenly arise and form itself into an obscene gesture. It was pleased to give gentle paddings to its former owner and displayed its dexterity by scattering flies. Comandante Aranda often contemplated it with a mixture of pride and sadness – his eyes bathed in tears – like a father whose beloved son had become a spoiled child.

Soon, everyone in the household was upset by its mercurial personality. At times it would tidy up the house. Then it would amaze the family by rearranging their shoes in precise arithmetical order. Its calculations, permutations, combinations, and exchanges were remarkable. However, on other occasions it would throw rocks at the windows or hide the balls belonging to the boys so they could not play in the street.

The comandante observed all of this but did so silently. His wife had an overwhelming hatred for the hand and was – as a result – its preferred target. It humiliated her by instructing her on how to do household chores and giving her unwanted cooking lessons.

The entire family became demoralized. Comandante Aranda began to fall into extreme states of melancholy. His wife became suspicious of everyone and was easily frightened. The children neglected their schoolwork and lost their good manners. It was as if a vulgar leprechaun had entered the house. Life was filled with distress, toil, whispers, and slammed doors. Meals were served at the wrong times – often in the living room, parlor, or even in someone’s bedroom, while the dining room had another strange purpose.

Much to the dismay of comandante Aranda, to the disgruntlement of his wife, and to the barely concealed delight of the young ones, the hand had taken possession of the dining room for its gymnastic exercises. It would lock itself inside and would throw plate dishes at the heads of those who attempted to reclaim the space. Finally, the Commander gave up possession of the room entirely and retired in abject surrender.

Then the older servants left – even the nanny who had raised the children fled. New servants couldn’t last more than a day or two in the bewitched house. Friends and relatives turned away. The police were concerned about the repeated complaints from the neighbors. An epidemic of thefts began in the community. The last silver gate in the National Palace, disappeared like a magic trick. The village as a whole determined that the most likely culprit in all this was the mysterious hand.

The worst part of this situation was that the people did not blame the hand itself; rather they did not believe that it had a life of its own. Instead, all of this was attributed to the trickery of the poor, one-handed man – the comandante himself – whose severed dispossession was already threatening to one day cost what Santa-Anna’s wooden leg cost to the Mexican people. Neighbors were certain that Aranda was a sorcerer who had a pact with Satan. People crossed themselves feverishly when they passed his house.

Meanwhile the hand, indifferent to the harm and pain caused to others, mastered more and greater skills. It had acquired an athletic musculature and strength. One night, the hand craved fresh air and went for a drive in the family car. The family was incapable of stopping it. They feared it would end in damage and ultimately ruin their home. Convinced that the next step was surely the end of the world, the family huddled in fear awaiting the vehicular carnage. However, there were no traffic accidents or fines. There was no necessity for bribes to keep their valuables from being seized to pay damages. “At least,” said the Comandante to his family. “This way the hand will keep the car’s engine in good shape.” It had begun to rust after the chauffeur fled in terror.

Eventually, abandoned to its own devices, the hand felt free and capable of seizing the moment. This led to ambition and a desire to become a predator. But after seeing how the hens turned up with their twisted and broken necks, and how the neighbors’ art objects showed up in the Aranda’s home, it became quite clear that the hand had chosen to become a thief and a predator. Poor Aranda spent endless hours stuttering nearly incomprehensible apologies when returning purloined items to their owners.

Aranda’s neighbors began to question his mental health. There was talk of collective hallucinations, ghosts, and other mischievous entities that began to appear in neighboring homes. The few dozen locals who had seen the hand in action were not at first viewed by their fellow citizens as credible witnesses. Most of them were of the servile class, and it was assumed they tended to fall prey to superstitions easily. Those of the middle class preferred not to say anything or answered evasively afraid of being ridiculed as superstitious. A roundtable at the College of Arts and Scholars was convened to discuss an anthropological thesis about the origin of myths.

But there is something sweet among the sadness of this story. One midnight, Aranda awoke in terror. Accompanied by a chorus of frightening screams, the severed hand had come to intertwine its fingers with the left hand – as if longing for support from its former partner. It was impossible to separate them and that is how they spent the rest of the night ... and the next ... and the following nights.

As this continued, Aranda became used to the strange situation. It seemed to him that the union of both hands eased the sense of mutilation, and, in some way, began to comfort his only attached hand. The poor left hand, the female, needed a kiss and the company of the masculine hand, the right hand.

Sadly, the union did not last for long. One night, the hand opened the door to the library and began reading. It found one of de Maupassant’s short stories about a severed hand that strangled its enemy. Next, it found a beautiful fantasy story from Nerval, where an enchanted hand travels the world, doing “marvels” and casting spells. Then he came upon a few notes about the philosopher Gaos on the phenomenology of the hand. Oh heavens! What will be the outcome of this fearful incursion in literature?

Well, the result was both serene and sad. The proud independent hand, that wanted to be a person, a sovereign entity determining his own conduct, became convinced that it was doomed to be nothing more than a literary theme, a matter of fantasy, by now thoroughly examined by the pen of many writers. With grief, the severed hand retreated to the display cabinet in the room, and rested itself in its case, among the campaign medals and crosses its bravery had earned. Full of disenchantment and sorrow, it lay down and allowed itself to pass away.

The sun was shining when comandante Aranda, - who had passed the night tossing and turning, distressed by the prolonged absence of his hand, - discovered it stiff in the case, somewhat blackened and with signs of asphyxia. He couldn’t believe his eyes at first, but once he finally understood what was going on, he nervously crumbled the paper where he had written his request to be discharged from active duty, stoop up tall in dignity resuming his military attitude, and rushed out of the house shouting at the top of his voice

“Attention, stand firm! Everyone at his post! Trumpets, play the victory call!”

The end



All right, let's go back to reality where someone has died has not come back to life. I remember a friend telling me that she had heard that some people were so attached to their pets that, after they died, had them preserved as memorabilia. To me it seemed the strangest thing in the world. It is not like they were hunters showing off their trophies. But over the years, and falling madly in love with my dog, one day I caught myself wondering if I should do the same after his death. I immediately said to myself, “Carolina please, that is insane!” After that, I printed a bunch of pictures of my puppy, and placed them all over the house. And of course, he continues to make our days a beautiful adventure.

The story "The Hand of Commandante Aranda", made me think about the relationship we have with our own bodies. For a long time, my body was practically a servant of my brain. My mind is a bit of a tyrant, especially with my poor body and I don’t think I’m the only one. How many times does our body scream at us, "Stop! I want to rest! I don't want to eat that! I am thirsty!" But we continue doing what we are doing, just because...

Since last year, when the world slowed down, I have been approaching that thing called meditation, and it has changed my life. It's not that I can meditate like an expert, or that I do it every day, but I've become more aware that my body needs more breaks, and that my mind needs them too. I've learned to retrieve my mind when it wanders off thinking about to-dos and what-ifs, rather than being here in the moment enjoying with my body what's going on around me.

I am far from have mastered any type of mindfulness, but at least I am already aware that my body also speaks, and that I must listen to it with care.


It's time to remind you to subscribe to our mailing list through our website

As I mentioned in the episode of the Spanish writer Ángeles Vicente called "Vultures," the podcast is going through some changes. And as part of the rebranding that will happen between the end of this year and the next, we are going to have a contest called "The literary basket". We will be promoting it between November and December here in the United States. So, if you are subscribed then you will receive the bases of the contest, so you can participate.

Likewise, if you like the program and have a few minutes left, remember to leave us a positive comment in any of the applications you use to listen to us, or you can write us an email to

Finally, although we have planned a season of nine episodes, we will take a break of one week every three episodes. That is to say that after today's episode we will see each other in two weeks, that is on October 21 to continue with the next three episodes of Latin American fantasy.


Without further ado, let's talk about today's author. This brief biographical review was written in collaboration with Esther Evelyn Bastidas, who has given us a hand during this season.

The Mexican author, essayist, critic, poet and narrator, Alfonso Reyes was born in Monterrey, in 1889. His parents were Bernardo Reyes, a native of Nuevo León, and Aurelia Ochoa de Reyes who was born in Zapotlán el Grande, Jalisco.

In 1909, the young writer, joined the civil association "El Ateneo de la Juventud", (The youth cultural association) looking to instill a societal reflection in Mexico, addressing the problems faced by culture and art at that time. Three years later, in 1912, Alfonso married Manuela Mota, who, according to his relatives, was his "companion, girlfriend, lover, friend, wife, mother, librarian, reader, archivist and cheerful hostess".

Alfonso's childhood and adolescence were marked by the political and liberal interests of his father, Bernardo Reyes, a Mexican military officer who would become governor. The legacy that Don Reyes left was to activate the industrial and economic progress of the state of Nuevo León. Unfortunately, on February 9, 1913, Don Bernardo was hit by a burst of machine gun fire in an attempted coup d'état later known as "El Cuartelazo".

The death of Alfonso's father had devastating consequences for the family. Due to Don Bernardo Reyes’s opposition to the government of the time, the family was branded as revolutionary. Alfonso was harassed by those who were on his father's side, inciting him to avenge his father’s death, but the young writer had something else in mind. As soon as he finished his law degree at the National School of Jurisprudence (today the Faculty of Law of the UNAM), Alfonso fled to Paris, France in 1913. Fourteen months later, he settled in Spain where he lived for the next ten years.

Alfonso Reyes' first book was Cuestiones Estéticas, (Aesthetic Matters) published in 1911. With his first compilation of essays, Reyes showed what would characterize his style, his rich vocabulary, expressive turns, infrequent grammatical constructions, and archaism, - that is, the use of very old words. Some of these can be appreciated in the story "The hand of comandante Aranda".

Reyes was the founder of the French Institute of Latin America, and El Colegio de México. Although a candidate on several occasions for the Nobel Prize, he never received it.

Finally, in 1945, he was awarded the National Prize for Literature and was the winner of the title “Precursor of Magical Realism” for his story "La Cena", (The dinner).

From 1939 when he returned to Mexico, Alfonso lived in a house that over time became a library filled with numerous books, essays, articles, and other writings that the author left behind when he died in 1959. Today, this house is known as "La Capilla Alfonsina", (The Alfonsine Chapel), and is one of the most famous libraries in Mexico, and a center for literary and cultural studies.

After Reyes death, "Manuelita", the author's wife continued to share the literary legacy of Alfonso Reyes with the world.


As usual, before concluding the program I will leave you with another reflection made by today’s author Alfonso Reyes, that can be found in Obras completas de Alfonso Reyes. (The complete works of Alfonso Reyes).

"How many things as a child they taught me that I didn't understand! To some of the ancient methods, and no less than to the docility of the childish mind, I owe the fortune of having learned by heart what I did not understand. Thus, I am often surprised by reciting phrases that since childhood are resonating in my head, but that then did not make sense to me. Little by little, life is discovering its mystery.

"Because if the old pedagogy needs defenders, let me be the first: there are things that must be learned even if they are not understood, things that must be in memory first, and then in the will, even before being in our understanding.

"Dogmatically, we receive the same vision of the universe. Consciousness, the thread of being, is nothing more than a memory of moments. When everything is already understood, it is too late to learn it. I don't understand, no, the creation of life: I live it by memory."

(Source: Obras completas de Alfonso Reyes. Volumen III. El Cazador: Domingo Siete. Alfonso Reyes. Letras Mexicanas. Fondo de Cultura Económica. 1995. URL:


And that is all for today. In the next episode the Argentine writer Leopodo Lugones tells us the story of a man whose alter-ego detaches from him and becomes a terrifying shadow. Until the next cuento or story! Adios, adios.

Tres Cuentos Podcast is produced with support from PRX and the Google Podcasts creator program.

Tres Cuentos is an exercise of creative writing, researching, and retelling.

Special thanks to ….

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The music and sound effects were downloaded from the YouTube audio library and

The list of credits per song can be found in the transcript.

Thanks for listening, adios, adios.


Web: “Reyes, Alfonso”. URL:

Web: Enciclopedia Electrónica de la Filosofía Mexicana. “Alfonso Reyes”. Escrito por: Virginia Aspe Armella, E. Año 2004. URL:

Web: Biografías y vidas, La Enciclopedia Biográfica en línea. “Alfonso Reyes.” Ruiza, M., Fernández, T. y Tamaro, E. Año 2004. URL:

Web: Enciclopedia de la Literatura en México. “Alfonso Reyes, detalles del autor”. José Miguel Barajas y Mario Conde. Año: 01 de diciembre de 2017. URL:

Web: “Manuelita Mota de Reyes, Esposa Ejemplar. Escrito” por Jorge Pedraza Salinas Año: 2016. URL:

Web: La mano del comandante Aranda

Web: La mano, Guy de Maupassant. URL:

Fuente: Obras completas de Alfonso Reyes. Volumen III. El Cazador: I - Las grullas, el tiempo, y la política. Alfonso Reyes. Letras Mexicanas. Fondo de Cultura Económica. 1995. URL:


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