SAN CAMILO, 1936 by Camilo Jose Cela


The Eve, Feast, and Octave of St. Camillus of the Year 1936 in Madrid
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 A 20-year-old, skein-like novel by the 1989 Nobel winner--a tour-de-force that proceeds in chapter-length sentences, on-rushing with asides and tiny glimpses into the life of a neighborhood and its people during the first few weeks of the Spanish Civil War. So full of characters is the book, and so unconcerned to identify them by anything but repetition, that translator Polt has appended a helpful list of characters and references at the end. But it isn't strictly necessary. Cela's constitutional pessimism (an amalgam of venery, political cynicism, and astonishing mood- changes) sweeps everyone into the same tossed-about boat; and the effect achieved is probably the one that was wanted: we see people very large in their private lives turned utterly small and interchangeable by public life, revolt, and death. At times every woman in this novel is a whore--there is a grungy stylization of desire as antidote to ideas--every man a pig, every person a liar and poseur. Yet when Franco and his generals revolt and the militias form in response and everyone must produce identities to anyone with a gun who asks for them, suddenly the book becomes very moving and shocking: the scatter of characters begins to diminish by murder, and names we were tripping over stop showing up altogether. Far from an easy or enjoyable read, but this may be Cela's bitterly flowing masterpiece.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-8223-1179-8
Page count: 330pp
Publisher: Duke Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1991