They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sorry about my love for literature...

Sorry about my love for literature

By Sara Plaza

I do not really feel ashamed of my reading passion; however, I do feel certain degree of remorse when the pages of a novel trap me and I cannot break free from their hug. I spend days and nights embarked on somebody else's boat, like a stow–away in the belly of a ship that an author headed for the open sea and takes me in its bowels toward waters deeper and deeper... I love books, stories and the life that slips through the paragraphs of a novel when its characters unweave it before my eyes.

I have got the last novel of Almudena Grandes [1], "El corazón helado" (The frozen heart), which makes me think, once and again, of a sentence that I came across when I was reading page number 409 or 410 "(...) the astonishment that consolidates itself becomes a skin much more astonishing, and the only miracles that are worthy are the ones that can be repeated". So many times a book has amazed me, so many times literature has seemed to me a miracle, that I am sure of having touched the skin that Grandes mentioned, in many occasions. I am almost sure of having also carved it with a smile, with a bunch of tears, with a good number of silences and with more than one comment. I have been able to feel it under my feet and in my hands many times and it is worthy, of course it is...

A bit further on, the author reminded me of a wonderful picture of Degas, which poster I got in the Tate Gallery of London when I still was a secondary student, and fastened it to my bedroom wall with four drawing pins. It was called "After the bath" and showed a woman beside a bath, wrapped in a towel, with her naked back and shoulders, who was drying her long hair. While I kept on reading I asked myself whether or not Almudena Grandes would had had the same picture in her home, since her lines took me back to my sixteen years of age with a extraordinary easiness and I saw exactly that: "(...) a young woman was washing her hair, and a shell, hard, dry and aware of its own clumsiness, fell noiseless onto the floor, useless in before the power of those naked arms, armed only with their nakedness". And, once more, I fell completely in love with her writing, because of everything, with everything and having nothing to stop it.

It happens to me every time I take one of her books in my hands; however, on this occasion reading "The frozen heart" it is taking place in a very special manner and in a different way as well. Their pages hurt, hurt a lot. Inside them the writer does not only tells about a war, The Spanish Civil War that broke out in 1936 and finished in 1939 (although, like any other war, was hatched up in advance and lasted longer); she also shares a good number of stories which make up "only a Spanish story, one of those that spoils everything". And one starts to understand, as the characters do, that after that war the man or the woman who went back to Spain "had not arrived at a pacified country, but at a captive one, an occupied country where there were not winners any more, but masters".

And one also understands better the joke that was published by the cartoonist Máximo, a few days ago, in EL PAÍS journal. He wrote in a small piece of paper a sort of announcement by the Abbreviated Historiography General Direction where anyone can read the following four points:

1. La guerra ha terminado. (The war has finished)
2. La posguerra, casi (aunque) (The postwar, almost (but))
3. La transición, bien, gracias. (The transition, well, thank you)
4. La memoria, Dios dirá. (The memory, God will say it)

It would make me laugh if it did not bring so much shame on all of us. A very deep and bitter shame that spreads not only around Spain but also through the world, which tears to bits entire continents because "there are strange moments in life, moments when everything is forgotten, everything that has always been known, everything that should never have been forgotten" as one of the main characters of the book remembers us.

When I wrote before that the novel hurts and hurts a lot, and maybe it hurts me more because those 900 pages are, in fact, another page of the many that make up the history of the country that saw me to be born and grow, the country where my grandparents and my parents were also born and grew; where the former had to fight and that was inherited by the latter. Of which country their children and grandchildren will be simple and forgetful offspring [2], unless we do something to change the current state of things. Where do we think that we will arrive if we ignore the place where on we are? Where did our predecessors set out from? How further did they go?

In another sentence of the book that I am talking about, another character refers to his grandmother, a socialist teacher during the II Republic, as the woman "who plucked up enough courage to write that, even though she thought to be doing what was correct and did it for love, she might had been wrong anyway. I believe that this is a good reason for defending a country against fascism, for fighting in favor of its women, of the education offered by the "Institución Libre de Enseñanza", ILE (Free Institution of Teaching) as well as in favor of the children of the former and the students of the latter.

Here I would like to make a marginal comment, and mention the fact that during the Civil War, many schools were shot and yet nobody knows how many teachers were assassinated. So the secondary school teacher Iñaki Pinedo, and the journalist Daniel Álvarez, have named their documentary "La escuela fusilada" (The Fussillated School). It was shown in Madrid a few days ago after being presented in a number of Spanish cities. The film has got each prize in the film festivals of Aguilar de Campoo and Cantabria and it is expected to take part in the Bogotá film festival. An excellent piece of news, without doubt, which takes me back to the last quote that Almudena Grandes has included in her novel:

... para los estrategas, para los políticos, para los historiadores, todo está claro: hemos perdido la guerra. Pero humanamente, no estoy tan seguro... Quizás la hemos ganado.

Antonio Machado [3]

(December, 1938)

... for strategists, for politicians, for historians, everything is clear: we have lost the war. Humanly speaking, however, I am not so sure... Maybe we have won it.

And before ending this post I would like to point out a discrepancy –that maybe is not such– between the author and me. Although in many occasions we can feel as "a satisfied subject of the slow and demanding tyranny of the slowness that governs the time in the libraries", I believe that the literature we can find in them will always make us freer, and will turn us into the true heroes of their bookshelves

[1] She was born in Madrid in 1960. Author of the novels Las edades de Lulú (Lulú ages, which was awarded with the XI "La Sonrisa Vertical" prize), Te llamaré Viernes (I will call you Friday), Malena es un nombre de tango (Malena is a "tango" name), Atlas de geografía humana (Atlas of human geography), Los aires difíciles (Difficult winds) y Castillos de cartón (Cardboard castles). She has also written a fantastic compilation of articles, Mercado de Barceló (Barceló Market), and two books of tales, Modelos de mujer y Estaciones de paso (Woman models and Passing stations).

[2] Almudena Grandes quotes at the beginning of her book the following words of José Ortega y Gasset: "Lo que diferencia al hombre del animal es que el hombre es un heredero y no un mero descendiente" (What makes the difference between a human being and an animal is the fact that the human being is an inheritor not the mere offspring)

[3] The writer to whom the author says thank you, por todo y por el título (for everything and for the title) in her last words at the end of the book.