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Category Archive for 'Spain'

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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Antonio Munoz Molina, one of Spain’s premier writers, shows his intense psychological and atmospheric style in this short novel, a perfect introduction to this author for anyone who has not already read A Manuscript of Ashes, or any of Munoz Molina’s other works. In the latter important novel, the author’s scope is that of Spanish Civil War, the people it absorbed, and the subsequent dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. The present novel (which some will consider a novella), is of a much more limited scope – the life and love of Mario Lopez, an undistinguished worker in the city of Jaen, halfway between Madrid and the south coast of Spain. Mario, almost anonymous in his profession – a draftsman, rather than the architect he would like to be – is someone his wife Blanca considers a bureaucrat. She has, in the past, accused him of “settling for too little, of lacking the slightest ambition,” to which Mario has replied that “she, Blanca, was his greatest ambition, and that when he was with her he wouldn’t and couldn’t feel the slightest ambition for anything more.” How he and Blanca ended up married is one of the mysteries of the novel that develops as the action proceeds in its roundabout way through time and flashbacks, and as Mario reveals his feelings for Blanca, the only woman who has ever fully captured his heart but one he can no longer recognize as the novel opens

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Published in Spain in 1999 and just translated into English for the first time by renowned translator Margaret Jull Costa, Paris plumbs the depths of emotions, memories, and thoughts of the main character – as a schoolboy at the beginning and as an adult in the conclusion, twenty-two years later – as he tries to understand and reconcile serious issues about his father and mother, nearly all of which his mother keeps secret from him. The boy and his mother share an intensely interdependent life since his father is absent for most of the novel, and though the boy accepts the little his mother does say about his father, he also explores on his own and discovers nuggets of additional information about his father which make him question everything he already “knows.” When, later in the novel, circumstances arise which his mother could never have predicted, he begins to question her whole story and all its mysteries. Though some of the mysteries of the novel remain mysteries even in the conclusion, there is one revelation, so tucked away that anyone who skims the final pages will miss it, which changes every aspect of the main character’s life.

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Setting her novel in 1939, in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, author Rebecca C. Pawel carefully recreates many of the elements which led to that civil war and which continued in the partisan turmoil that continued long after that. Sometimes described by Republicans as “a war between tyranny and democracy,” and by Nationalists as “a war between Communists, anarchists, and ‘Red Hordes’ against civilization,” the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) attracted extremists on both sides, and those sides were not always clearly delineated. Because the action, the motivations, and the shifting allegiances are complex here, the author wisely keeps her narrative style simple, moving the action along on the strength of her characters, who are memorable despite the fact that they are somewhat superficial examples of the various factions at work in Madrid at the time. Sgt. Carlos Tejada Alonso y Leon, a mid-level gardia, is widely honored by his fellow officers, having been involved earlier in the Siege of Alcazar in Toledo. Tejada often behaves in ways which will be repugnant to readers, but he is also depicted in the confused context of the period. He is brought to the scene of a murdered guardia who was his best friend – Francisco Lopez Perez, known as Paco, a man with whom he had lost touch during the war and whose body he had to identify on the street. Realistic and filled with the kind of details that only someone who has studied all aspects of this war would know, the novel is both a good mystery and an especially readable depiction of an otherwise confusing time of history.

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Many readers will argue that this work is not a novel at all. Certainly it does not adhere to the traditional expectations of a novel, no matter how flexible the reader is with definitions. Begun at the end of the 1980s and still unfinished at the time of author Roberto Bolano’s death in 2003, at the age of fifty, The Woes of the True Policeman was always a work in progress, one on which the author continued to work for fifteen years. Many parts of it, including some of the characters, eventually found their way into other works by Bolano, specifically, The Savage Detectives and his monumental 2666. But though it is “an unfinished novel, [it is] not an incomplete one,” according to the author of the Prologue, “because what mattered to its author was working on it, not completing it…Reality as it was understood until the nineteenth century has been replaced as reference point [here] by a visionary, oneiric, fevered, fragmentary, and even provisional form of writing.” As one character discovers, “The Whole is impossible…Knowledge is the classification of fragments,” and Bolano leaves it to the reader – his “true policeman” of the title – to figure it all out.

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