Complex tale of the long-lingering effects of political murder in a Basque town.
“Before what happened with Txato,” writes San Sebastián native Aramburu, “Bittori had been a believer.” What happened with Txato is revealed, bit by bit, over the course of 125 short chapters that focus on the many players involved, but the basic facts emerge early on: A businessman, Txato, has been murdered by a member of the Basque separatist group ETA, who are criminals or freedom fighters depending on one’s point of view. Bittori, Txato’s widow, knows what side she falls on; she has to be dissuaded from including a denunciation of the movement on Txato’s tombstone, for fear that there will be further trouble. “They already killed him once,“ Bittori replies. “I don’t think they’ll kill him again.” But death and sorrow ensue all the same: Bittori loses both her faith and the friendship of her childhood companion, Miren, even as her own children slip away, unable to face the tragedy; her daughter, Nerea, does not even attend the funeral, perhaps for fear of being targeted herself, while Bittori leaves her village so that she “wouldn’t have to go on suffering the menacing stares of the neighbors—friendly for so many years and then, suddenly, just the opposite.” For her part, Miren undergoes trials of her own: One of her sons has been imprisoned as an ETA terrorist, while her own daughter, Arantxa, has been paralyzed by a stroke. For all their shared tribulations, Miren and Bittori, once the closest of friends, now stand on opposite sides of a vast gulf, and if life goes on, it goes on without them; the novel’s closing words make clear that their wounds will never be healed. Aramburu recounts the lives of ordinary people shattered by events that are ongoing in Spain today even years after ETA has suspended its armed campaign; the reader needs no background in that tangled history to understand that basic, terrible truth.
A humane, memorable work of literature.