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Sunday 12 October 2008

Facts and Bones

Today, 12 October 2008, Javier Marías has an interesting article in El Pais newspaper on what I mentioned in an earlier blog entry. ‘El Pais’ means, literally, 'The Country' and there was a time when the mere name of the paper was regarded as an insult to Spain’s position in the world (see 'La Patria' or 'Fatherland', beloved by hacks in times of Francisco Franco anxious about his legacy).

The subject is Historical Memory, grave-digging and relics. Marías does point out the traditional contradiction of eternal life and the enormous attention paid to bones in Catholic societies. He also uses the word ‘puerilidad’ - puerility - in the endeavour to find out what happened to, say, Lorca in what - this is me - is a kind of living archaeology. By that I mean within living memory, with relatives of the dead still alive. He mentions an uncle of his who died at age 17 or 18, and that the fact of his murder is worth more than finding his bones in a place where they have lain for seventy years beside other victims.

Our problem may be that we want to see, have, even possess what is gone. At one level this is understandable. At another, again me, this is derisory. We can’t recapture, sort out or establish justice years after. But we don’t want to forget, unless it suits us.

Marías is an exceptional novelist, quite well known outside Spain. I recommend his books. (See, for example A Heart So White published by Vintage 1997, excellently translated by Margaret Jull Costa).

Another Spanish language novelist, not so well known, is the Peruvian Alfredo Bryce Echenique. Some years ago, I tried to get him published in English and failed. His Un mundo para Julius – A World for Julius – was translated into English – not too well - for an American academic publisher, and that rather did for La Vida Exagerada de Martin Romaña, an account of a Peruvian, in 1968 Paris, that makes you laugh - until you cry.

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