Seventeen stories, most portraying historical figures trapped in the political convulsions of the 1930s and ’40s, by award-winning Spanish novelist Muñoz Molina.
Muñoz Molina writes with a kind of political nostalgia, recalling the great conflicts between Communists and Fascists and the various factions caught in between during WWII and the years leading up to it. His style is leisurely and anecdotal, somewhat in the manner of Borges, and it nearly always takes the form of personal recollections of events seen now across the expanse of many years. Some of the stories, like “Sacristan” (a provincial Spaniard who moved to Madrid many years ago continues to return to his native village for Holy Week and observes the changes brought on with the passing of time), are simple elegies, but most are rooted in actual events and some are populated by historical figures. “Munzenburg,” for example, depicts the real-life adventures of Willi Munzenburg, a German Communist spy who ended up being pursued by the Gestapo and the KGB alike during the early days of WWII. “Silencing Everything” gives us the recollections of a Spanish university student who, too young to fight in the Spanish Civil War, made his way to Russia a few years later to fight the Germans in WWII, while “Those Who Wait” recounts the stomach-churning tension suffered by those who tried to go on with their daily lives while trying to evade arrest by the Soviet or Nazi secret police (Jews such as Victor Klemperer of Dresden, or hapless Communist Party rejects like Margarete Buber-Neumann or Nadezhda Mandelstam). The title piece is a rambling memoir that moves from the author’s recollections of the abandoned Jewish ghetto in his native Spanish town to a visit many years later to the Sephardic cemetery in Manhattan.
Beautifully constructed and very rich but, still, tales with a narrow focus that may seem foreign and strange to the majority of American readers.