The lone man by Bernardo Atxaga

 

The Lone man by Bernardo Atxaga

Spanish (Basque) fiction

Original title – Gizona bere bakardadean

Translator – Magaret Jull Costa

Source – personnel copy

 

ILW 2016

Well I have managed again to mix Lisa Indigenous lit week and Spanish lit month by reviewing Bernardo Atxaga one of the leading basque writers as Basque is considered an indigenous culture in europe  and he is a  personnel favourite of mine . I have reviewed before Seven house in france  and have also read a couple of his novels in pre blogging days. Atxaga studied in Bilbao economics and then philosophy in Barcelona, he has written seven novels  six of which are available in English.

“Boniek is currently a key figure in the world of soccer ” Carlos read on a page of the sports section lying on the carpet.He had spotted the article as soon as he looked away from the screen. “As we have had occasion to see in Barcelona , this most popular , much – admired figure is idolized by his fans .His team mates have tremendous respect for him too, for no one in Poland can forget the way he stood up for Mlynarczyck when the latter turned up hopelessly drunk at Warsaw airport

Boniek the star of 82 maybe Carlos reading this unaware his old team mates need him .

The book is set in 1982 and follows the owner of a hotel in Barcelona , that has been the home of the polish team. But also at the same time the owner Carlos whom had in an earlier life been also a member of ETA(The Basque terrorist group )  of the hotel has been hiding two Basque gunmen turn up one from his own past on the run after shooting at the police . Which the police know in a way but have to draw them out but at the same time he wants to draw the police out of hiding. Along side this we see the wonderful Polish team featuring the unlikely looking football star Zbigniew Boniek who lead his team to the semi final so over the last few matches of the 1982 world cup we see a cat and mouse game an outsider football team captures the mind of the public and two men in hiding trying to escape.

“Those stupid bloody newspaper say that Jon and I are romantically involved, but it’s not true, in fact it just complicates matters” She concluded, starting to swear again. Carlos deduced that the woman was referring to the articles in the tabloid press reporting the shoot-out with the police she and Jon had had weeks before, articles that compared them to Bonnie and clyde. despite that, there was something about what she had said didn’t quite add up .

Jon and his friend turn up but is all it seems with them ?

There is a wonderful counter point of world cup matches with Poland winning and the drama inside and outside their hotel with Carlos and the two gunmen in hiding. The backdrop of football and the ever more unlikely progress of the Polish team sees a journey of a man from where he is into his hidden past Carlos is a man who tried to run from his past to only nearly get away to the arrival of the two gunmen amid the chaos of the Polish team and the press trying to get them. For me this is as good as anything written by Graham Greene , it is a wonderful lit thriller using football and basque terrorism in the same book is a masterstroke. I was remind of my own memories of the 82 world cup which mixed bot Gerry armstrong the Northern irish strciker scoring and the red haired polish mastero Boniek a wonderfully talent player. A great choice for both Spanish lit month as it highlights the Basque issue and because of the a great choice also for Lisa’s indigenous lit week.

Have you a favourite basque writer ?

Bilbao – New York – Bilbao by Kirmen Uribe

Bilbao – New York – Bilbao by Kirmen Uribe

Spanish Basque fiction

Original title – Bilbao – New York – Bilbao

Translator – Elizabeth Macklin

Source – Review copy

I wish I was a fisherman
Tumblin’ on the seas
Far away from dry land
And its bitter memories
Casting out my sweet line
With abandonment and love
No ceiling bearin’ down on me
Save the starry sky above
With light in my head
You in my arms
Woo!

Well it could only be the song Fishermen blues another hymn to being a fisherman from The Waterboys -source

Well I originally set out to write this review a month and half ago and then saw the book wasn’t out yet , it was a book i read and just wanted to write about and even after a month I still feel the same .This novel was a real event when it came out in spain as Kirmen Uribe is seen as one of the brightest stars in Spanish/Basque writing .He grew up in a small fishing village an hour from Bilbao ,his father was a trawlerman , Kirmen started out as a poet and has done spoken word performances to music in the past ,this novel was his debut novel and won the Spanish literature prize in 2009

Fish are always growing .Not us , we start shrinking once we’ve reach maturity .Our growth stops  and our bones begin to knit together .The person shrivels up .Fish , though grow until they die .Faster when they’re young , and as the years go on more slowly ,but fish always go on growing

The world of the fishing village is like men grow n and now shrinking , unlike the fish they catch

So Bilbao – New York -Bilbao , is a novel that to me as a reader was like getting really into the head of a writer for the first time , the plot follows Kirmen Uribe as he takes a flight from Bilbao to New York , whilst on this flight we see Kirmen drift into his own world ,his families world , he is in the middle of writing a novel about three generations of a fishing family , the family in the book is his own family from his grandfather to his father , uncles  and their years as trawlermen , the folklore of being a fishermen , his own life , the progress of the flight .

A monster , a monster that roars .In the old Irish legends Rockhall island is called Rocabarragh .The rock that roars according to Celtic tradition , the third time the rock comes to light ,it is said , the end of the world will be at hand .It’s visible only in the summer , in winter the waves cover it ,until they’ve hidden it completely

I love the small snippets of fishermen folklore we see in this book .

Well that is all I’m giving you plot wise  on this  book as I feel it is one you really  have to discover yourself  .For me this book is almost in words, the working of the inner mind of a writer we see how Kirmen could have used all  that is in this book , the  memories ,folklore and dairies  to write another  novel ,an interesting novel within a novel or is the novel he was writing in the book I  am reading the book ? or is it another book at some  later point I as a reader will meet from him  .Is the kIrmen Uribe  in the book the KirmenUribe that wrote book ? What we see in the book is a real hymn to a dying world the world of his father and uncles ,the dying world of small trawler men in the Basque region .The world he writes about reminded me of the people I knew in the small fishing port where I worked twenty years ago .The world isn’t just dying the people in the world are looking beyond the boats , but also looking back at the boats ,as the world of small boats supporting families giving them a living is dying out as this sort of fishing is being driven out by bigger boats with smaller crews and thus less work in the small communities around the ports where these boats were based , this is the world we see in Kirmen’s book is  not quite gone but disappearing quickly .Th e other thing that comes across in the book is the sea , fishermens respect for the sea ,the folklore they build around the sea ,man being drawn to the challenges of the sea-going in boats round places like St Kildas ,were the world comes down to man against nature so much and although he is flying over this world maybe trying to escape it he in his own way as a writer is still drawn to this world , as thou you can’t escape the shadow of ones own past .I’ve not read any book that has touched me in  so may ways such as this book has , having  lived around fishermen for a few years and also spent a lot of my youth around the small fishing ports of the East Neuk in fife , spending my summers with my gran doing the fishing boat trail learning about the fishermen and their lives ,I admire Kirmen’s longing for this world at times .Kirmen Uribe cast his own net not a real net no a net of ones mind a drag up memories poetry and a truly unique book for us as a reader , I hope Seren discoveries the publisher publishes his other novel ,either that or I may have to teach myself Spanish to read it .

What was the last book that left you totally knocked back ?

 

 

Seven houses in france by Bernardo Atxaga

Seven houses in france by Bernardo Atxaga

Basque fiction

Translator Magaret Jull Costa

Bernardo Atxaga is one of my favourite writers I ve read a couple of his other books the Accordionist’s son and Obabakoak both of these were set in small villages in the basque region that he comes from ,he also writes some of his books in basque and is an ambassador for Basque culture .Now this his latest novel to be translated into english sees him shift to Africa and also a historic story set in the Belgian Congo .

I ve been looking forward to this novel as I had enjoyed his other books as he has a real knack of quirky characters and unusual situations but was a bit weary after I read Jackies review she found this book very savage .Now the bases of the story is a a garrison deep in the Congo in 1903 .A group of solders and I suppose this is where this book will be compared to Conrad’s heart of darkness and it has a lot in common with that book the garrison is rather like the station that Kurtz lives at in that book a place of decay and loose morals . But I also find this book maybe is a bit like Buzzati’s Tartar steppes as the men in the Garrison have so little to do so have gone rogue and like the main character in that book Biran has dreams of a different way via his poems and now the fact King Leopold is on the verge of visiting it has come to light .also a new arrival sets up the story .

Together the walked back towards the village and Donatien gave him a brief rundown on the garrison .In Yagambi there was a total of seventeen white officers,twenty black non commissioned officers ,and one hundred and fifty Askari – volunteer black soldiers – all of whom were under the command of captainn Lalande Biran a highly cultivated man ,well-known in belgium as a poet , an excellent soldier ,and most gifted of all the officers who had passed through Yangambi .

The new officer Chrysostome arrives and soon finds out all is not as it seems .

Chrysostome arrival is a catalyst as it turns out he is a moral man in this slowly if not completely immoral garrison we discover how each of the white officers has gone rogue raping locals ,tie up and shoot animals also enslave the locals as they destroy the local area to bring the riches of the land to Belgium .Chrysostome seems uninterested in the local women and the raping of them that his fellow officers do, this leads to him becoming a target for his fellow officers as he may be gay or to religious to be there he wears a cross .I see what Jackie hated about this book it is barbaric ,but I feel this book maybe like a holocaust novel needs to show the horrors of empire. We all have ideas of what happened during Empire but sometimes, we need a reminder of the horror society can be driven to when they have no real barriers .This is a situation I ve seen examined before in the film The exterminating Angels by the Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel which shows how a group of dinner party guest end up as savages as there trapped and this is part of what happened here these 17 now 18 white officers are trapped in the dark side of the Congo jungle have gone savage even more so than the locals .

Chrysothome had never forgotten the words he heard as a child from the parish priest in Britancourt .

“cleanliness is the greatest of the virtues ” the priest told the children after their chance meeting with a syphilitic man who lived in one of the caves near the village .”If a christian keeps himself clean inside and out ,he will develop an iron exterior that no enemy sword can penetrate .

An insight into the new man at the garrison and why he is at odds to the rest .

For those you aware and having read his works you won’t be disappointed as there is the usual assortment of odd characters and a midget as there seems to be in his other books .The title is a reference to mthe fact that the Garrison captain wife a beautiful women in france now has seven houses in france one for every year he has been in the Congo .Margaret Jull Costa has again showed why she is on the top table of spanish language translators ,as it has warmth and humour kept from the original which was in Basque then translated into spanish by Atxaga and Asun Garikano ,then into English .When compared with other books done like this say the Kadare’s which have been via french translation this works so much better than they did .

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