Sunday, July 08, 2012

Spanish Language Lit month : from the archives

Winstonsdad and Richard are hosting Spanish Lit Month at their blogs this month. Stealing the archives idea from Simon through Lizzy I thought I would highlight three of the Spanish language books I’ve previously covered at this blog and one series of books.

Miguel de Unamuno has long been one of my favorite authors and I wholeheartedly recommend his novel Mist, a playful look at how literature represents and shapes man. I’ll include a quote from the protagonist’s dog, musing on man’s nature, getting to the heart of the book:
But he barks in a way all his own—he speaks. And this has enabled him to invent what does not exist and to overlook what exists. As soon as he gives a thing a name he ceases to see the thing itself; he only hears the name that he gave it or sees it written. His language enables him to falsify, to invent what does not exist, and to confuse himself.

The Tree of Knowledge was by far the best and most impressive of the six books I have read by Pío Baroja. In lieu of a summary, I’ll include part of the overview I posted:

In The Tree of Knowledge Baroja presents different philosophical ways of looking at the world. The main character, Andrés Hurtado, complicates matters further with a skewed perception of the reality around him. Andrés can see things shrewdly but his desire to remain detached from the world he sees as deeply flawed proves to be an ineffectual way to live. His disillusionment with the Spain he inhabits leads him to adopt a rationalist approach to life. Yet this approach constantly fails him—while some presumptions turn out to be correct, many do not. Society is flawed but not to the extent he views it. By withdrawing completely from the world, he fails to recognize the problem that resides within him until the very end of the book.

Eduardo Mendoza's The Truth About the Savolta Case evokes the past in this murder/mystery novel while providing a cautionary tale for post-Franco Spain by looking at a Barcelona in political, economic, and social turmoil at the end of World War I. It's a fun read and highlights how the past isn't necessarily that different from the present:

"There’s no way out for this country, even if it isn’t right for me to say so, being a foreigner. There are two major parties, in the classic sense of the word, conservatives and liberals, both of which support the monarchy and both of which take turns at being in power with skillful regularity. Neither party seems to have a well-defined program, just some vague general concepts. And even that handful of ambiguities, which constitutes their ideological skeleton, changes as conditions and opportunities change. I would say that both limit themselves to supplying concrete solutions to problems they raise, problems they suffocate, once they’re in power, without really solving them. After a few years or months, the old problem breaks through the improvised solution they’ve provided and causes a crisis. Then the party out of power takes the place of the party that took its place. And for the same reason."

I’m saving Benito Pérez Galdós for last in this post. I’m hoping to have a readalong in October for Fortunata and Jacinta. One of the characters from that novel, Francisco Torquemada, was provided his own spotlight in the Torquemada series of novels. In these posts I have linked to Dr. Rhian Davies and the The Pérez Galdós Editions Project. Dr. Davies has a very good summary of the Torquemada novels at the Project, which ends with this:

The Torquemada novels are closely linked to the events and ideas of nineteenth-century Spanish society. They explore the evolution of society and the rise of the nouveaux riches and express the diversity of responses which such social mobility evoked, ranging from the hostility of the blind Rafael, who in his despair commits suicide, and Torquemada's constant unease to the openly predatory reactions of Cruz, who is prepared to do anything to retrieve her respectable social position. The novels also consider the significance of appearances, of social traits, and of what often turn out to be superficial social norms. It could even be argued that they are closely related to the phenomenon of regeneración in the Nineteenth Century. It is perhaps significant that Galdós should have chosen to name his protagonist after Tomás de Torquemada, for the Inquisition was often a theme of the regeneracionista treatises of the period. Some argued that the Inquisition had isolated Spain from her European counterparts and condemned the country to decadence. There are, indeed, many readings that can be applied to the novels: such is the universality of Galdós's novels, which, in lending themselves to multiple readings, constantly renew their appeal for readers of all backgrounds and all beliefs.

Check out the posts at Richard and Winstonsdad’s sites during July for their posts and links to other bloggers' posts during Spanish Language Lit Month.


Richard said...

Having read the Unamuno and parts of the Baroja and Mendoza, all I can say is what a wonderful list. Looking forward to your Galdós readalong although I just read last night that one of the Spanish authors I'm reading and enjoying for Spanish Lit Month totally hated everything about Galdós' writing project for some reason. Kind of funny. Anyway, thanks for this overview--will link to it at the end of the week.

starla said...

To tell you the truth, things haven't changed so much in Spain. In my opinion, and other people's as well, we still have the same problems: laziness, distrust of things from outside, envy of the people who have succeeded, and above all, a strange pride that preserves all those problems and more. That's why is such an embittered experience to read all those classics you've mentioned. Even though I loved Mist and The Tree, I haven't read these authors since high-school.

Dwight said...

Thanks Richard. That is interesting about the one author...

Starla, I wonder how common those sentiments (or variations of them) are elsewhere.