THE LONE MAN by Bernardo Atxaga


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 Introspection takes precedence over action, and even characterization in this sluggish 1994 novel by the celebrated Spanish author of Obabakoak (translation 1993). The focal character here is ``Carlos'' (an alias), who is part owner of and also the baker at a hotel in Barcelona that hosts the visiting Polish soccer team during the 1982 World Cup games. A former member of the Basque Independence Movement (now ``just an occasional collaborator, a retired activist'') who has killed and been imprisoned for his beliefs, Carlos nevertheless finds it impossible to either fully embrace or totally discard his old allegiances. Two revolutionaries, a man and a woman, sought for a bombing in which a child was killed, are hidden in the cellar beneath his bakery. As Carlos deflects the suspicions of former comrades and assorted friends, his mind becomes an arena where radical theories contend with his exhausted diffidence, and where Carlos ``hears voices'' haranguing him: those of his brother Kropotky (nicknamed for the Russian revolutionary), long consigned to a psychiatric hospital; of his old comrade and mentor Sabino; and of the ``bad'' part of his conscience--the most amusing of the three--that the embattled Carlos labels ``the Rat.'' These voices are juxtaposed against a series of conversations in which the same theoretical points are made and remade (people keep quoting Rosa Luxemburg and Alexandra Kollontai), and a flimsy plot that features a lot of surreptitious surveillance but never manages to generate significant suspense. It's only too apparent that Carlos will not escape his past, and that the decisive action he finally steels himself to take will have disastrous unexpected consequences. Not do we care. He isn't a character; he's a collection of sociopolitical postures. The only one of Atxaga's figures who even briefly claims our sympathies is Danuta Wyca, an interpreter for the Polish athletes who, though in her 60s, is a potent intellectual and sexual presence. The Lone Man won the 1994 Spanish Critics' Prize. Why?

Pub Date: Feb. 20th, 1997
ISBN: 1-86046-135-2
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997


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