The 2009 session of the European Book Club was held at Instituto Cervantes, Amster Yard Gallery on December 14th.
The selected book was, “The Lone Man” by Bernardo Atxaga, and was moderated by Joseba Zulaika from the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“The Lone Man” original title in Basque: “Gizona bere bakardadean”. English version by Margaret Jull Costa, Harvill, 1996 has been translated into 15 languages and received several important prizes.
In this "literary thriller" Atxaga, explores the psychological and political landscape of Spain during the delicate and uneasy transition from dictatorship to democracy. During the Franco dictatorship in Spain (1939-75), the suppression of the Basque language and Basque laws and the lack of democratic alternatives gave rise to groups generally known as ETA -- or, in this book, "the organization." When Franco died, Spain gradually converted to a democracy. Basque political prisoners were amnestied, but old wounds did not heal quickly.
The author sets this novel among a group of Basque ex-prisoners, now operating a hotel in Barcelona, during the 1982 World Cup. This small group has renounced the armed struggle. But the cycle of conflict continues as the main character, Carlos, does one last job for the organization, hiding a man and a woman who are on the run from the authorities. Complicating matters, the hotel is crawling with police, ostensibly protecting the Polish soccer team staying at the hotel.
Atxaga works from inside the head of Carlos, increasing the tension page-by-page as the police get closer and closer to the truth. He explores Carlos's relationships with his fellow ex-prisoners, Guiomar and Ugarte, as the plot moves forward. There are also the families, girlfriends, staff, the Polish team and various hangers-on. The police are on to Carlos, he knows they know, but there is no proof. Who was the informer? Will Carlos get "Jon" and "Jone" out of the hotel bakery where they are hiding, without being caught?
A lot of other questions remain unanswered. Why can't Carlos return to the Basque lands? Why did he have to commit his brother, Kropotky, to a mental institution? Will his former comrades -- now business partners -- denounce him?
New Statesman 08/02/96) underlined that Atxaga's novel was not a conventional thriller, and that location and action were developed symbolically through a use of evocative imagery that enriched the plot.
The Guardian (07/29/96) remarked on the originality of the theme and the rhythm of the novel…
The Times (08/03/96) said the novel was a captivating odyssey into the mind of the protagonist.
In Spain the reviews were equally positive. The critics asserted that this was a novel by a great writer, a risky novel, full of detail and irony.
For more information visit: http://www.atxaga.org/blog
Atxaga is the basque’s strongest literary voice. He has collected more prizes than any other Basque author to date: Premio Nacional de Narrativa, 1989, the Milepages in 1991, the Tres Coronas de los Pirineos Atlánticos in 1995, the Vasco Universal in 2002, the Cesare Pavese Poetry prize in 2003, the Mondello Prize, etc.
Atxaga’s novels, stories, and poems have been translated into more than seventy languages. The Accordionist´s Son, his latest novel, has been published in the USA.
Joseba Zulaika is Co-director and Professor at the “Center for Basque Studies” at the University of Nevada, Reno.
For more information visit: http://basque.unr.edu/04/4.2.1t/4.2.1.02.1.zulaika2.htm
For more information about the European Book Club, visit http://europeanbookclub.org/