martes, 8 de marzo de 2011

Nada

A mi amiga Emily

Nada (Ediciones Destino, 2006)
por Carmen Laforet
España, 1945

Para ser completamente franco, no podría imaginar por qué Nada es estimada como una de las obras canónicas de la literatura española del siglo XX desde un mero resumen del argumento.  Andrea, una huérfana de 18 años,  llega a Barcelona para estudiar Letras en la universidad.  Al vivir con sus parientes en una casa mugrienta y lóbrega donde prevalecen un ambiente de represión gótica e incluso una sombra de violencia (un hogar donde el tío Juan siempre pega a su mujer, el tío Román está orgulloso de ser el malo maquiavélico de toda la familia, y el descenso de la prosperidad en la posguerra barcelonés se puede medir por la venta de los muebles que pertenecen a la abuela para poner comida en las bocas), la chica pasa un año en que la libertad de su vida universitaria y la amistad con una compañera de clase carismática que se llama Ena ponen de relieve la falta de libertad, la "soledad espiritual" (253), y la desperación que la afligen en la casa de la calle de Aribau.  Es todo, más o menos, y sin embargo ¡qué librazo! Pienso que un razón por el éxito de la novela es que Andrea es un personaje convincente cuya voz parece ser totalmente auténtica en la prosa sencilla y comedida de Laforet.  La chica es una observadora extraordinaria también, como se nota en esta escena sobre la despedida de la tia Angustias que ocurre antes de que la tía se hace una monja: "Como una bandada de cuervos posados en las ramas del árbol del ahorcado, así las amigas de Angustias estaban sentadas, vestidas de negro, en su cuarto aquellos días.  Angustias era el único ser que se conservaba asido desesperadamente a la sociedad, en la casa nuestra" (98).  En otra parte, la intrevertida Andrea usa sus facultades de observación como persona independiente para examinar a sí misma de manera asombrosa.  "Parecía ahogarme tanta luz, tanta sed abrasadora de asfalto y piedras.  Estaba caminando como si recorriera el propio camino de mi vida, desierto.  Mirando las sombras de las gentes que a mi lado se escapaban sin poder asirlas.  Abocando en cada instante, irremediablemente, en la soledad" (208).  Las páginas de la obra están impregnadas con este sentido de una soledad que es casi palpable, un estado de tristeza que contrasta con los eventos en el "manicomio" que es la vida familiar del protagonista.  ¿Es Andrea capaz de escaparse de la situación o va a hundirse en el miasma neurótico de la casa en la calle de Aribau?  No me corresponde a mí decir pero en una obra que se parece a una carta de amor a la interioridad femenina y en una obra donde la Barcelona de los años después de la guerra civil española se ve como una ciudad fantasmal de la muerte, sí les voy a decir que el desenlace de Nada me conmovió tanto que les di un aplauso espontaneo para la novelista y para la protagonista adolescente al final.  ¡Detonante!  (http://www.edestino.es/)


Nada (Modern Library Classics, 2008)
by Carmen Laforet [translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman]
Spain, 1945

To be brutally honest, I don't think I'd have any idea why Nada's considered to be one of the canonical works in 20th century Spanish literature from a mere plot summary alone.  Andrea, an 18-year old orphan, arrives in Barcelona to study literature at the university.  Living with relatives in a squalid, gloomy house where a sort of gothic repression and the very real specter of physical violence reign supreme (it's a home where her uncle Juan is constantly beating up his wife, her uncle Román brags about being the Machiavellian mind manipulator who controls all the family members' actions, and the decline in the family's prosperity in the postwar period can be measured by the amount of the grandmother's furniture that's sold just to keep food on the table), the girl spends a year in which the relative freedom of her school life and an on-again/off-again friendship with a charismatic classmate named Ena underscore the lack of freedom, the "spiritual solitude" (224), and the desperation that are slowly crushing her spirit at the house on the Calle de Aribau.  That's it, more or less, and yet, what a book!  Part of why the novel's so successful, I think, is that Andrea's a completely convincing character whose voice rings true in Laforet's simple, understated prose.  She's an arresting observer, too, as in this bit on her bitter aunt Angustias' extended farewell to her friends prior to joining a convent at an advanced age: "Like a flock of crows perching on the branches of the tree where a dead man hangs, Angustias' friends, dressed in black, sat in her room during this time.  Angustias was the only person in our house who still grasped desperately at society" (83).  Elsewhere, the introverted Andrea turns her outsider's powers of observation inward to striking effect.  "So much light, so much burning thirst of asphalt and stone seemed to choke me.  I walked as if I were travelling over the deserted road of my own life.  Looking at the shadows of people who fled my side, unable to grasp them.  Constantly, irremediably, chewing on solitude" (183).  This sense of an almost palpable solitude permeates the pages of the work and contrasts with the increasingly insane asylum-like ambience of the narrator's home life.  Will Andrea find a way to escape from the situation at hand or will she succumb to the neurotic miasma that is life in the house on the Calle de Aribau?  Not for me to say, but in what's something of a love letter to female interiority and a work in which post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona is portrayed as a phantasmal city of death, I was so moved by the outcome that I actually gave Laforet and her teenaged protagonist an impromptu round of applause at the end.  Just blew my mind.  (http://www.modernlibrary.com/)

Carmen Laforet

14 comentarios:

  1. Oh man, awesome! I'm glad you loved this book. It inspires me to, um, re-read it. I didn't quite "remember" the gothic ambiance or the convent-bound aunt, and that line about "chewing on solitude" is beautiful. Thanks for the nod, book buddy!

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  2. Your review makes me feel as if I'd want to kill myself rather than applaud after reading it - how depressing it sounds! It also seems as if the Egon Schiele would have been a more appropriate cover for the English translation as well.

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  3. *Emily: Awesome, indeed! I think you'd dig getting "reacquainted" with this novel, and at the very least I was super excited to discover that a novel that didn't really sound up my alley in the beginning turned out to be WAY up my alley in the end. How nice a surprise is that? Cheers!

    *Jill: Aw, c'mon, do you really expect me to believe that the Queen of Grisly Crime Novels, Dystopian YA, and Vampire Bat Thingies couldn't handle a coming of age story that's merely a little more strongly told than usual?!? Seriously, there's some lyrical writing here in between all the grim reality stuff I might have unduly concentrated on--and the only thing depressing about the novel is that I waited so long to read it. Not a fan of that Egon Schiele cover by the way--the US cover (not to mention the French one, which is my favorite of all) is far truer to the spirit of the work.

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  4. I kind of groove to depressing and have never read this. But you make me want to. "Chewing on solitude." Just love that.

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  5. *Frances: In retrospect, I think Nada might have made a fine Wolves selection this year. Nice writing. A slightly off kilter sensibility. I think you'd like it even if you didn't "groove to depressing," in fact!

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  6. Hace unos años hubo un escándalo en Argentina: a cierta novela se le otorgó un premio literario (organizado por una prestigiosa editorial junto con un diario de gran tirada); después, gracias al ojo atento de un lector muy joven, se descubrió que el texto contenía largos fragmentos tomados de Nada de Carmen Laforet.

    El jurado retiró el premio y eso abrió la polémica sobre los límites de la intertextualidad y el plagio. Podés ver aquí la discusión de entonces (en el blogroll de la izquierda, sección "Copy/Paste"):

    http://www.nacionapache.com.ar/archives/1508

    ¡Saludos!

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  7. *Martín: ¡Hola! y gracias por recordarme del escándalo sobre Bolivia construcciones. Mi cuñada me mandó esa novela hace dos o tres años, pero la había olvidado porque quise leer la novela clásica de Laforet primero. A fin de cuentas, quizá sea tiempo para leer esa "Nada argentina plagiada" en seguido. ¡Saludos!

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  8. This sounds so intriguing, I need to get a copy. I was looking forward to your review as I had heard the book mentioned but wasn't really sure what it was about.

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  9. *Caroline: It's one of those classics that I felt that I "should" read more than I actually wanted to, so I put it off for a long time. However, I was surprised to discover how juicy and how impactful it was (emotionally and writing-wise). Would love to hear what you make of it if/when you get the chance!

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  10. This is definitely the sort of book I like to read, but I haven't heard of it before. Carmen Laforet is someone I but the reviewers on Amazon seem to suggest that it is a poor translation into English. What a shame.

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  11. *Tom: I didn't check out the English translation other than to pull up Grossman's translation of the two Laforet quotes that I used in the post, but it seemed fine to me from the very little I saw. Too bad about the Amazon comments, but I find that since many Amazon commenters are so flat out wrong about any number of judgements, a "negative" review there often equals a recommendation for me that on site. Cheers!

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  12. An extraordinary book - the 'chewing on solitude' passage you've quoted is very telling: 'I walked as if I were travelling over the deserted road of my own life.'

    I've just updated my review with a link to this post. Sorry, I should have thought to check your blog to see if you'd reviewed it!

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    Respuestas
    1. Jacqui, thanks for the link--very kind of you! I should try and find the time to squeeze in another Laforet novel this year, but my first follow-up to Nada by her was surprisingly disappointing given how great Nada is. Weird!

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  13. Not at all - I'm glad to include a link to yours, and I've also added your blog to my blogroll links. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts if you do read another by Laforet. I get the impression her subsequent novels never quite matched the standard set by 'Nada,' certainly in terms of critical acclaim (which is a pity).

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