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Category Archive for 'Spain'

Author Eugen Ruge grew up in East Berlin during the time of the Berlin Wall and lived there till the age of thirty-four, leaving the East for the West a year before the Wall fell, and perhaps it is this background which enables him to create a main character like Peter Handke. Handke is disconnected from those around him, alienated, his profound loss of motivation preventing him from making changes in his own world. Like the author, Handke is also a man from Berlin, one who has just lost his girlfriend and his sense of direction, and he has decided to start over in a new country. Not as young as he seems, he is a former professor of chemical engineering with a well-paid, permanent position, one he has recently resigned in order to become a writer. A novel of absurdity which sometimes borders on the bizarre, Cabo de Gata (“Cape of the Cat”) begins with Peter’s travels from Basel to Barcelona and then on to Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. Peter Handke is not a “hero” or even an anti-hero. He is too neutral and uncommunicative to attract the long-term interest of the reader, and his journey is a solitary one, with no antagonist, other than life itself, to fight him. He raises questions but does not come to many conclusions, and those he does draw are often offbeat and darkly comic. The novel ends without a clear resolution, adding to the feeling that this novel defies all the “rules” and presents itself on its own terms. Readers who can be satisfied with letting the novel unfold in its own way will enjoy this unusual and often humorous creation which offers more than mere laughs.

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From the outset of this tragicomic novel, Spanish author David Trueba’s ability to visualize and create intense word pictures dominates his style, making the reading of this novel a special treat on several different levels. Not only does he show the places and people surrounding his main character, Beto Sanz, instead of simply telling about them, but he also channels Beto’s own inner thoughts, providing lively commentary on virtually every aspect of his life and the activity around him. As the narrative opens, Beto has just arrived in Munich from Madrid for a conference for landscape architects, where his firm is a finalist for an international prize. He is nervous but full of hope as he prepares for his presentation to the jury, after which he and Marta, his partner and lover, will return immediately to Spain. Unfortunately, while he is there, Marta mistakenly sends him a message meant for her lover, and she returns to Spain alone, while he remains, miserable, in Munich. What follows is the intimate story of one calendar year from January, when Marta and Beto end their relationship, through December, when Beto begins to take some control of his life. The author, a well-regarded film maker, allows the reader to share Beto’s innermost thoughts and experience some of his questionable activities, while he also uses visual elements from art and architecture to ground Beto’s life in a greater reality.

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Delightful, playful, clever, and humorous, Spanish author Juan Gomez Barcena’s debut novel is also consummately literary, telling a story on several levels at once but doing so while maintaining the atmosphere of a college prank. Two university students who are also members of the moneyed elite in Lima, Peru, in 1904, are anxious to obtain the newest book of poetry written by Juan Ramon Jimenez, a much-admired twenty-four-year-old writer in Spain who has been publishing lyrical poetry to international acclaim. Though twenty-year-old Carlos Rodriguez and Jose Galvez consider themselves poets, too, they have been writing to no acclaim; few others from their college find their work interesting or original. Poet Jimenez eventually goes on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956, while no one now remembers the names of Carlos Rodriguez and Jose Galvez, except for their possible creation of a letter-writing hoax regarding the world-famous poet Jimenez, the hoax described in this book. In the course of the novel, one of the writers of the letters – and the reader – come to a new recognition, stunned by the power of narrative and poetry to affect lives on many levels in a novel which started as fun and concludes in serious contemplation about writing and its power.

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Opening in 1978, three years after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, this stimulating and provocative novel comes to life through the point of view of Gafitas, a naïve, middle-class sixteen-year-old drawn into the alien world of Zarco, a school dropout who lives in the poorest section of the city of Gerona, in the far northeast of Spain. With no guidance, no prospects, no hope, and no future, Zarco and his friends have only the miserable present to look forward to, and their primary goals are to do the best they can with what they have and to take what they don’t have if they can get away with it. Forming a gang of quinquis, they commit petty crimes, and as the novel opens, Gafitas, cruelly bullied by his former school friends, has made informal contact with them during his school vacation. Dazzled by Tere, who may or may not be Zarco’s lover, he is easy prey for the gang, which needs an innocent-looking accomplice for a robbery. In the course of the summer, Gafitas experiments with drugs, sex, and the excitement of behaving in a way that is totally alien to everything his family believes in. A foiled bank robbery changes his life and those of the gang. Part II takes place thirty years later, when Gafitas, now a lawyer, is approached to defend his former gang leader Zarco. Highly literary in its approach to the subjects of identity, moral responsibility, and truth as each person sees it, the novel illustrates how a person’s past influences his perception of the present and how that, in turn, influences that person’s actions which affect the future.

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Author Gabriel Urza, whose family roots are Basque, lived in the Basque country himself for several years after college before returning to his birthplace in the U.S. to write and practice law, a background which gives this debut novel a sense of atmosphere, a feeling of strong roots, and a sense of the social and political vagaries which sometimes lead to crimes of passion and violence. To set the scene within Spain politically, the author opens and closes the novel with descriptions on a much broader scale – the 2004 bombing of the Atocha train station, outside of Madrid, which killed one hundred ninety-one people and wounded eighteen hundred, the deadliest terrorist attack in Spanish history. The novel, character driven, is told in the voices of three residents of Muriga – Joni Garrett, an elderly American who came to Muriga in 1948 to teach at a local school and never went home; Mariana Zelaia, widow of Jose Antonio Torres, a government official murdered six years before the bombing; and Iker Abarzuza, convicted of Jose Antonio’s murder when he was eighteen, a young man confined to the Salto del Negro Prison in the Canary Islands for the past six years. With his multiple points of view, well-drawn characters, shifting time frames, atmospheric style, and unusual historical perspective, Urza has developed a sensitive and often moving novel about a part of the world which is only now beginning to receive literary attention. Though the subject matter of the novel might have been treated sensationally, Urza wisely lets his story lines evolve subtly. The dramatic conclusion adds a stunning coda to the action.

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