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MEMOIRS OF A BASQUE COW by Bernardo Atxaga


by Bernardo Atxaga ; translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-912868-01-8
Publisher: Dedalus Limited

A philosophical cow recounts her life and ponders its meaning.

Mo looks back on her long life: her unceremonious birth, dismay at the realization that she’s a cow, humans she befriended or fought, a tumultuous friendship with a fellow cow called La Vache qui Rit, and her dotage with a plucky French nun. Mo’s narration is monopolized by philosophical conversations with The Pest, Mo’s inner voice, an all-knowing, formally prissy conscience. Serenity, danger, and cruelty are all present in Mo’s account. The story is translated from Basque, and the author’s preface provides brief historical context about the Spanish Civil War and the anti-fascist Basque rebels who fought against Franco’s dictatorship after the war. Unfortunately, the text fails to explore these sociopolitical issues. It is also a shame that the translator and publisher did not opt to remove problematically dated terms. Mo shares a saying from “a wise oriental,” and the story’s villain is referred to as “a foreigner”; as Mo cannot understand the latter’s (unidentified) language, it is, regrettably, represented throughout with just one nonsensical word: “Karral.” Human characters seem to be default white. The meandering narrative bounces between past and present, with many digressions in between, punctuated by pithy cow sayings. There’s a monotonous lack of urgency between bits of action and the occasional fight scene.

Dated language and slow pacing make a muddle of this tedious title.

(Fantasy. 10-14)