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 ?

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Jacqui review the infatuations by Javier Marias

the infatuations

The Infatuations by Javier Marías
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

When someone tells us something, it always seems like a fiction, because we don’t know the story at first hand and can’t be sure it happened, however much we are assured that the story is a true one, not an invention, but real. At any rate, it forms part of the hazy universe of narratives, with their blind spots and contradictions and obscurities and mistakes, all surrounded and encircled by shadows or darkness, however hard they strive to be exhaustive and diaphanous, because they are incapable of achieving either of those qualities. (pg. 310)

When something happens in life, how do we ever know if someone is telling us the truth, that their version of events is accurate? Or do we just have to accept the impossibility of ever knowing anything (or anyone) for sure? These questions are central to The Infatuations, the latest book by Javier Marías.

The novel is narrated by María Dolz, a woman in her late thirties, who works for a publisher based in Madrid. Every day, María has breakfast at the same café where she sees a married couple who also take breakfast together on a daily basis. María can see how much this handsome man and woman enjoy each another’s company, as they talk, laugh and joke ‘as if they had only just met or met for the very first time’. María never speaks to her ‘Perfect Couple’ (as she thinks of them) but simply seeing them together and imagining their lives lifts her mood at the start of each day.

One day, the couple (Miguel and Luisa) are absent from the café; at first María assumes they have gone away on holiday and, deprived her morning fillip, she feels a little bereft at their absence. Later, she learns from a colleague that Miguel has been stabbed repeatedly and murdered by a homeless man in what appears to be a tragic case of mistaken identity. In fact, María had already seen the newspaper report of the murder (coupled with a photograph of a man lying in a pool of blood) without realizing that the victim was the husband from her Perfect Couple.

A few months later, María sees Luisa at the café again, accompanied this time by her two young children. After a while, the children depart for school leaving Luisa alone and María decides to offer the widow her condolences. She soon learns that Miguel and Luisa had also noticed her at the café; indeed they even had their own name for her, the ‘Prudent Young Woman’. Luisa is keen to talk, so she invites María to come to her home that evening where María meets the intriguing Javier Díaz-Varela, one of Miguel’s closest friends. Although María doesn’t see Luisa again for some time, she bumps into Javier purely by chance during a visit to the museum and the two become lovers. As María continues to see Javier, she learns a little more about his relationship with Luisa and uncovers other information which causes her to question Javier’s true motivations and desires…and these discoveries cast a different light on events and circumstances surrounding Miguel’s death.

What Marías does brilliantly in The Infatuations is to use the events surrounding Miguel’s murder to weave an elegant meditation addressing fundamental ideas about truth, chance, justice, love and mortality. There’s a philosophical, meandering, almost hypnotic quality to Marías’s writing. His extended sentences seem to capture a person’s thought process by giving us their initial perceptions or ideas, often followed by qualifications or even an alternative theory. And he softens the boundaries between thoughts and speech, too; once immersed in the middle of an extended passage, it isn’t always easy to tell whether you are listening to a character’s inner reflections or observing their conversation with another. This technique might sound a little confusing, but it isn’t at all; Marías pulls it off with tremendous skill and style, and Margaret Jull Costa’s translation is simply wonderful.

During this meditation, Marías offers us reflections on a number of existential themes. For example, how we cling to the dead, feeling ‘an initial temptation to join them, or at least to carry their weight and not let them go’; how the dead should never come back, however much we would like them to; how an unexpected or a particularly dramatic death can dominate our memories of that person, almost stealing part of their existence from them:

You could say that those who die such a death die more deeply, more completely, or perhaps they die twice over, in reality and in the memory of others, because their memory is forever lost in the glare of that stupid culminating event, is soured and distorted and also perhaps poisoned. (pg. 75)

Marías is particularly insightful when it comes to grief and how the death of a loved one affects those who remain. In this passage, María Dolz observes Luisa’s daughter, Carolina, with her mother in the café. It’s almost as though mother and daughter have swapped roles as Carolina tries to look after Luisa:

She kept one eye on her mother all the time, watching her every gesture and expression, and if she noticed that her mother was becoming too abstracted and sunk in her own thoughts, she would immediately speak to her, make some remark or ask a question or perhaps tell her something, as if to prevent her mother from becoming entirely lost, as if it made her sad to see her mother plunging back into memory. (pg. 41)

And the following passage on grief reflects some of my own experiences following the sudden death of my mother (many years ago now). There’s no finer example of why The Infatuations resonates so deeply with me:

And so, sooner or later, the grieving person is left alone when she has still not finished grieving or when she’s no longer allowed to talk about what remains her only world, because other people find that world of grief unbearable, repellent. She understands that for them sadness has a social expiry date, that no one is capable of contemplating another’s sorrow, that such a spectacle is tolerable only for a brief period, for as long as the shock and pain last and there is still some role for those who are there watching, who then feel necessary, salvatory, useful. But on discovering that nothing changes and that the affected person neither progresses nor emerges from her grief, they feel humiliated and superfluous, they find it almost offensive and stand aside: ‘Aren’t I enough for you? Why can’t you climb out of that pit with me by your side? Why are you still grieving when time has passed and I’ve been here all the while to console and distract you? If you can’t climb out, then sink or disappear’. And the grieving person does just that, she retreats, removes herself, hides. (pg. 64-65)

I loved The Infatuations (its Spanish title is ‘el enamoramiento’ – the state of falling or being in love, or perhaps infatuation). It’s intelligent, thought-provoking and superbly written; one to savour and revisit in the future. I don’t want to say very much more about the novel’s plot or Miguel’s death, but Marías sustains an air of mystery and ambiguity through to the finish leaving María Dolz to contemplate: ‘the truth is never clear, it’s always a tangled mess.’ (pg 326)

The Infatuations is published in the UK by Penguin Books. Page numbers refer to the paperback edition. Source: personal copy.

My review is here 

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