R. M. Koster

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Richard Morton Koster (1934) is an American novelist best known for the Tinieblas trilogy—The Prince (1972), The Dissertation (1975), Mandragon (1979)—set in an imaginary Central American republic much like Panama, the author's home for many years.[1] He is the author, besides, of two other novels, Carmichael's Dog (1992) and Glass Mountain (2001), and (with Panamanian man of letters Guillermo Sánchez Borbón), of In the Time of the Tyrants (1990), a history of the Torrijos-Noriega dictatorship in Panama.


Koster was born in Brooklyn, New York, and has degrees from Yale and New York Universities. He taught English at the National University of Panama, and from 1964 to 2001 was a member of the faculty of the Florida State University, serving at its Panama branch. He has lectured in English and Spanish at universities in the United States and Latin America. In 2003 he was a visiting professor at Southern Methodist University.

Koster has had parallel careers in politics and journalism. He was a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1967 to 1996, served on many Democratic panels, and wrote presidential debate copy for Senator John Kerry in 2004.[2] During the 1960s and '70s he reported from Panama for the Copely News Service and Newsweek magazine. He has reported more recently for the New York Times and has contributed prolifically to the Spanish language press in Panama. He was interviewed on National Public Radio about his book, In the Time of the Tyrants [3]

Koster went to Panama as a soldier in the late 1950s and has lived there since. His wife, Otilia Tejeira, was a soloist with Panama’s National Ballet and has had a subsequent career as a human rights monitor. They have two children and three grandchildren.

Tinieblas trilogy[edit]

In The Prince, conflict over an American military base near the capital of Tinieblas causes a "flag plague" in which activists break out in stinging rashes of their national colors, while The Dissertation presents itself as a doctoral thesis with contrapuntal stories in the text and notes.

Each novel focuses on a larger-than-life protagonist around whom the action revolves. The author himself likens the books to the panels of a triptych, "since each of the three is complete in itself and since they need not be considered in the order of their publication." Major characters from one book appear as minor characters in the others, and vice versa. The unifying "character" of all three is Tinieblas itself.

Each protagonist is a political leader, in The Prince an adventurer on the model of Cesare Borgia, in Mandragon a charismatic like Savonarola. For the protagonist of The Dissertation political ambition is a disease, yet he accepts leadership when it is thrust upon him. The three books received considerable acclaim, including a National Book Award nomination for The Prince.

Other works[edit]

In Carmichael's Dog (1992), which takes place in a parallel universe, characters quote the poet-playwright Robin Speckshaft, whose works include Launcelot and Guinevere, Ornella Whore of Tunis, and Malaspina Duke of Ancona. The latter’s protagonist has his dwarf strangled for making him smile.

Critical Appreciation[edit]

John le Carré thanked Koster in the acknowledgements to his The Tailor of Panama for his great help in providing local history and details.

Partial bibliography[edit]

  • The Prince (1972)
  • Mandragon (1979)
  • In the Time of Tyrants: Panama : 1968-1990, by R. M. Koster and Guillermo Sanchez (1991)
  • Carmichael's Dog (1992)
  • The Glass Mountain (2001)


  1. ^ Crump, G. B. (1983). "Transformations of Reality in R. M. Koster's Tinieblan Novels". Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 24 (4): 241–252. doi:10.1080/00111619.1983.9936455.  edit
  2. ^ [1] Debate copy for Kerry
  3. ^ [2] Radio interview

External links[edit]