THE VALLEY OF THE FALLEN  by Carlos Rojas

THE VALLEY OF THE FALLEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Spanish novelist and art historian Rojas delivers a politically charged, time-shifting portrait of the painter Francisco Goya in a time of repression.

Goya painted his subjects as he saw them, to sometimes precarious result, as when he turned in a portrait of the royal family that “lay bare in their features the stupidity, ambition, and duplicitous cunning that dwell within them.” For all that Goya was nearly indigent, deaf, and suffering from “the syphilis that perhaps he hadn’t known until then he had contracted in his early youth,” he was also exquisitely attuned to questions of political survival—a useful skill given that his bête noire if also odd confidant, the king, proudly describes himself as “your Saturn, devouring my people.” Leapfrogging decades, the scene shifts to another Saturn, the dying Francisco Franco, and the time of an art historian and intellectual, Sandro Vasari, “a descendant of Giorgio Vasari and three generations of émigrés terroni.” He is discontented, a hard drinker in a turbulent relationship, but finds meaning in the work of Goya, whose biography he is struggling to write and who was there at the dawn of “the liberal tradition that filled almost a century and a half of history, in spite of so many armed interruptions and its own errors, falsehoods, political bosses, and limitations of every kind”—and that Franco, his heart steadily failing, tried to end for so long. The title of Rojas’ novel is that of a monument to the Spanish Civil War dead, but this multistrained story points resolutely to the more distant past, as if to say that bad as things are now, they were as bad or worse then, and, conversely, much as we might believe in the promise of progress, things never really improve: our world is one of despots and tyrants, and it’s up to the artists, morally wanting though they might be, to document it.

A complex but rewarding meditation on the monstrous dreams of reason.

Pub Date: March 20th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-300-21796-4
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2018




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