BEHIND THE CURTAINS by Carmen Martin Gaite


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Spanish novelist Gaite's first US publication--the lead title for a planned series of Twentieth-Century Continental Fiction--is a domestic novel with bite, even political undertones. Set in Franco's Spain, a time of social and political paralysis, in a provincial city, where the club and the annual fiesta offer the only diversion to the daily numbing round of visits to the movies and friends, the young women of the story yearn for marriage. Marriage, they think, will give them freedom from their families, relieve the tedium, but the men they will marry--traditional and chauvinist--anticipate docile wives and marriages in which they will keep mistresses while their wives bear children. The story--more a series of episodes that illustrate the characters' situations--takes place over one winter. Natalia, a brilliant high-school student, and Pablo Klein, a visiting teacher, observe the others. They watch how bright young women like Gertru, who is Natalia's school friend, and Elvira, who is a little in love with Pablo, opt for safe, conventional marriages rather than independence. Natalia's older sisters are still unmarried, and while Mercedes, the oldest--increasingly desperate about her chances of finding a man--flirts outrageously, the other sister, Julia, in love with a man in Madrid whom her father disapproves of, mopes. Pablo encourages Natalia to go on to college, and Natalia, in turn, helps Julia defy their father and go to Madrid. Small victories but, in the stifling context, monumental. Gaite eloquently evokes that suffocating world--behind the curtains--where women, perceiving themselves to have no alternative, wait their lives out, hoping for something to happen or for someone to change it all. And though only a subtext, the political parallels to its times are unmistakable. A fine beginning to a timely project.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1990
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press