The boy who stole Attila’s horse by Iván Repila
Original title El niño que robó el caballo de Atila
Translator – Sophie Hughes
Source personnel copy
I was looking at some of the books that came out last year that may be on the man booker radar and this one I remember when it appeared last year seemed to get a number of good reviews in the papers and around the web so when I was in Sheffield earlier this week I decide to buy myself a copy to read. This is Ivan Repila second book in Spanish but his first to be translated to English. I can see why it may have been chosen as the first by him to be translated into english it has a certain universal nature to the story. A book that remind me so much of a Japanese film.
It looks impossible to get out, he says. And also: “But we’ll get out.”
To the north, the forest borders the mountain range and is surrounded by lakes so big they look like oceans. In the centre of the forest is a well. The well is roughly seven metres deep and its uneven walls are a bank of damp earth and roots, which tapers at the mouth and widens at the base like and empty pyramid with no tip.
The impossible to get out of well they are in, these are the opening lines of the book .
The book is the story of two brother Small and Big. They are stuck in the bottom of a well, we are given no idea how the pair arrived there. What follows in this short novel is the struggle to survive and the slow madness that comes to them both as they are stuck down this hole. Repila has a way of the horrific days and months of there being stuck there seem poetic in a brutal nature. As the bigger brother starts to try to keep small alive. This seen remind me of the Grave of the fireflies an early Studio Ghibli film that like this film follows siblings in that case a brother and sister , but we see the same brutal and sad demise as the two retreat to a small cave by a river and feed on the insects around them . (this is the one film I won’t watch again it is so sad be warned this one rather like this book can rip your heart out )
Small is so hungry that he can no longer control his body. He baulks, puts out his hand, into which Big places a colossal maggot, as juicy as a ripe apple.
“Abuser. Nasty pig. I hate you”
Finally he eats. He chews the gelatinous fibre of the maggot a dozen times and the bitter juice that oozes from it dances on his tongue. He drools like a hungry dog. It doesn’t taste of chicken: It’s better than chicken he bursts into tears like the little boy that he was.
“You’re the best. I love you. I love you.”
The feast goes on all night.
This scene and a few others reming me of the film The grave of the fireflies, I also like the chicken line here!
Replia has chosen two strange quotes at the start of the book one from Margaret Thatcher (why anyone would quote her is beside me ) About free trade and being rich and poor . The a Brecht quote from his poem To posterity about death and uprisings. I think we are meant to read Big and small as a wider story of survival in people and stripping the two lead characters of all identity barring their size has given this a fairy tale feel a timeless nature to the story. I was reminded of another Spanish novel I read last year Out in the Open another story of human suffering like the two boys in this book, maybe this is a modern take on a Spanish tradition that can be traced back to the books of Cela that take a look at the brutal nature of human life-like his book The family of Pascual Duarte life is brutal for some like big and small only one is destined to come through this ordeal.
Have you read this book ?