miércoles, 13 de junio de 2012

Si te dicen que caí

Si te dicen que caí (Debolsillo, 2009)
por Juan Marsé
España, 1973

Si te dicen que caí es con mucho el mejor libro que he leído en este año desde Los detectives salvajes en enero.  De hecho, estoy cierto que no podré olvidar o la destreza narrativa de su autor o la intensidad cruda de su escritura por mucho tiempo.  A ver si puedo explicarlo.  Cuando el celador de un hospital en Barcelona inesperadamente tropieza con el cadáver de un amigo de la infancia a principios de los setenta, algo acerca de la mirada de "la cenagosa profundidad de pantano de sus ojos abiertos" (11) hace que Ñito vuelve en tiempo al período de grandes dificultades en su niñez en los cuarenta cuando su amigo, el trapero Java, y casi la mitad de los niños pobres, la alta burguesía, los pistoleros anarquistas, y los soplónes falangistas de la ciudad parecieron ser obsesionadas con la desaparición de una puta rubia.  De todas formas, ¿por qué la buscaron?  En su turno, esta pregunta provoca una reacción en cadena de otros recuerdos en cual una multiplicidad de narradores de poca confianza produce una serie de sus propias reminiscencias entrelazadas y fragmentarias a través de la técnica ingeniosa de las aventis: las historias narradas por y a veces protagonizadas por los niños del barrio cuando eran jóvenes, historias que mezclan la realidad con la ficción.  El resultado es una jugosísima pero distorsionada versión de los hechos en cual los conceptos de "la verdad" y "la ficción" sólo se pueden encontrar entre los campos de minas de la memoria construidos por los narradores de la novela.  Además de la técnica narrativa febril de las historias fragmentadas, Si te dicen que caí tambien se destaca a causa de su retrato audaz y espantoso del sufrimiento y de la sórdidez de Barcelona después de la victoria de Franco.  Aunque el barcelonés Marsé ha dicho en una nota a la edición de la novela de 1988 que cuando él empezó a escribirla, "pensaba solamente en los anónimos vecinos de un barrio pobre que ya no existe en Barcelona, en los furiosos muchachos de la posguerra que compartieron conmigo las calles leprosas y los juegos atroces, el miedo, el hambre y el frío" (7-8), es obvío que, hasta cierto punto, esta despedida de la infancia suya también sierve como una bala a la nuca del regimén franquista: la ciudad, tan llena de huérfanos, es un infierno en pleno conflicto entre los pobres y los ricos, los rojos recién vencidos y los nacionales, e incluso los tísicos y los sanos, y el revés de la medella de la vida se subraya en escenas donde las putas de los teatros de cine ofrecen pajas al precio de una peseta y los pobres comen gatos en vez de la carne normal.  La ironía de todo esto, por supuesto, es que la escritura de Marsé es tan cargada de rabia y ternura que el lector querrá pasar más tiempo con estos "intrépidos hijos de la memoria" (354).  Un triunfo de puta madre.  (Debolsillo)
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Si te dicen que caí [literally If They Tell You I Fell but available in English as The Fallen in a now out of print 1979 Little, Brown and Company translation by Helen R. Lane] is by far the best book I've read this year since The Savage Detectives back in January.  In fact, I'm certain that I won't be able to forget either Marsé's storytelling prowess or the raw intensity of his writing for quite some time.  Let's see if I can explain.  When the caretaker at a Barcelona hospital unexpectedly encounters the cadaver of a childhood friend sometime in the early 1970s, something about the look in "la cenagosa profundidad de pantano de sus ojos abiertos" ["the muddy swampland depths of the dead man's open eyes"] (11) takes Ñito back in time to the desperate days of his youth in the 1940s when his rag-picker friend Java and half of the city's poor street kids, high society types, gun-toting anarchists, and Falangist police informers all seemed obsessed with locating a mysterious blonde prostitute who had gone missing. What were they all after her for anyway?  This dredged up memory in turn sets off a chain reaction of others in which a multiplicity of often unreliable narrators end up generating a series of their own interrelated but fragmentary reminiscences that are further mediated by the ingenious mechanism of the aventis: the partly true, partly speculative stories told by and sometimes starring the neighborhood kids in lieu of other amusements.  The result is a supremely juicy but extremely distorted version of the events in which concepts like "truth" and "fiction" can only be found strewn among the minefields of memory laid down by the novel's narrators.  In addition to the feverish narrative technique of the fragmented stories, Si te dicen que caí also stands out on account of its vivid, pull-no-punches rendering of the suffering and the sordidness of Barcelona in the aftermath of Franco's victory.  Although the Barcelona-born Marsé claims in the introduction to the 1988 edition of the work that when he began writing the novel, "pensaba solamente en los anónimos vecinos de un barrio pobre que ya no existe en Barcelona, en los furiosos muchachos de la posguerra que compartieron conmigo las calles leprosas y los juegos atroces, el miedo, el hambre y el frío" ["I was only thinking about the anonymous neighbors of a poor neighborhood in Barcelona that no longer exists, about the violent youth of the postwar era who shared the leprous streets, the fear, the hunger, and the cold with me"] (7-8), it's obvious that, to a certain extent, this farewell to childhood of his also doubles as a bullet in the head of the Franco régime: the orphan-ridden city is in full conflict between the haves and the have nots, the nationalists and the recently-defeated communists, and even the tubercular kids and the healthy ones, and suffice it to say that seamy scenes of whores giving hand jobs in movie theaters for a peseta and the poor fighting over cats for sustenance don't paint a very flattering portrait of Spain in that era.  The irony, such as it is, is that Marsé's writing is charged with such a heady mixture of tenderness and rage that you just might want to spend some more time with his "intrépidos hijos de la memoria" ["dauntless sons of memory"] (354) anyway.  A fucking triumph.  (Debolsillo)

Juan Marsé (foto: Jordi Socías)

Cuenta que al levantar el borde de la sábana que cubría el rostro del ahogado, en la cenagosa profundidad de pantano de sus ojos abiertos, revivió un barrio de solares ruinosos y tronchados geranios atravesado de punta a punta por silbidos de afilador, un aullido azul.  Y que a pesar de las elegantes sienes plateadas, la piel bronceada y los dientes de oro que lucía el cadáver, le reconoció; que todo habían espejismos, dijo, en aquel tiempo y en aquellas calles, incluido este trapero, que al cabo de treinta años alcanzaba su corrupción final enmascarado de dignidad y dinero.
(Si te dicen que caí, 11)

[He tells that on lifting the edge of the sheet that was covering the drowned man's face, in the muddy swampland depths of his open eyes, he relived memories of a neighborhood of run down vacant lots and lopped-off geraniums pierced from one end to the other by the whistling sounds of a knife grinder: a blue howl.  And that in spite of the elegant silver temples, the bronzed skin, and the cadaver's gleaming gold teeth, he recognized him--that everything had been an illusion, he said, back then on those streets, including this ragman, who at the end of thirty years was attaining his final corruption masked in dignity and wealth.]

22 comentarios:

  1. Richard - this sounds great. I'm reading Shadow of the Wind and this sounds like it covers a lot of similar territory in an edgier, more confrontational way.
    Another one to add to the tottering pile of books I must read someday.

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    1. I thought The Shadow of the Wind was really entertaining, Séamus, but Marsé's Barcelona book is in another league altogether: great, edgier, more confrontational for sure. I'm not sure whether Si te dicen que caí influenced The Savage Detectives or not, but it packs a Bolaño-like punch regardless.

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    2. A quick visit to Amazon suggests Marse don't come cheap. Except for Shanghai Nights and Lizard Tails. Do you know much about either?

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    3. I've heard good things about both but only in the most general terms. Shanghai Nights did make that Semana.com list as one of the critics' top 100 from the last 25 years, though!

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  2. *sigh* As Séamus stated, another addition to the TBR stack. Some of the themes dovetail nicely with The Truth about the Savolta Case, as you'll see (I hope!).

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    1. I can certainly identify with the tottering TBR stack plight, Dwight, esp. since I'm led to believe that Marsé has two or three other novels among his extensive back catalogue that might challenge this one as his best. Btw, I just started the Eduardo Mendoza title about an hour ago--was trying to save it for Spanish Lit Month, but my willpower, as usual, gave out.

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    2. I always worry about recommendations -- I realize things I enjoy won't necessarily click with someone else. Turns out I do have The City of Marvels in the house so I'll add Mendoza to July's reading.

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    3. Dwight, how about if I give credit to you if I like the book and blame Ignacio Echevarría if I don't? Would that work for you? Am thrilled to hear you and Scott are having such an easy time getting a hold of works by Spanish authors not published by New Directions. I would have guessed that Marsé and Mendoza would have been more difficult to find.

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    4. To tell the truth, both of the Mendoza books I picked up over a decade ago. I got to Savolta immediately and just haven't pushed City of Marvels to the front until now.

      And you know, I don't mind taking the blame on recommendations if I haven't done a good job summing up why I liked it. And I think I did so on Savolta. A nice side benefit to having a blog beyond just being my personal notebook.

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  3. Just before you started discussing Marsé recently I ran across an inexpensive hardcover copy of one of his books in a second hand shop and almost bought it (I'm still contemplating what to read for July's Spanish lit month). I passed it up, but will head back there this afternoon to see if it's still on the shelf (how could I not after this post?).

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    1. Scott, glad the post helped encourage you to look into picking up a Marsé--this is one book I don't mind being a booster for, and the knowledge that Marsé has something like a dozen novels to his name is now encouraging to me personally as well! In any event, looking forward to learning the title of that used hardcover you mentioned (was it Lizard Tails, by any chance?) and seeing what your choice for Spanish Lit Month will be whether you were able to pick up the Marsé or not.

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    2. Richard - The book I'd spotted was, in fact, The Fallen, that 1979 translation of Si te dicen que caí, and for a mere couple bucks, I now have it sitting here on the night table. Thanks!

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    3. It turns out that The Fallen is based on an earlier and slightly different version of Si te dicen que caí than the one I read, Scott, Marsé apparently being something of a notorious reviser. However, that sounds like a wonderful pick-up, especially at the price in question. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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  4. In spite of this being so well-written that I was once again awe-struck by your writing prowess, I thought I would nitpick a bit to make myself feel like I could inhabit the same blogisphere, albeit on a way lower rung. (Perhaps some snarky modern Dante could do the Nine Rungs of the Blogisphere for us.) "gone missing": sigh. Recently I've given in and used this myself, but it really galls my inner grammatical muse. "whore": one of those freighted words that reinforces the unconscious perception that it is the female who is (1) evil; (2) responsible for the phenomenon of sex in exchange for money; and (3) serves to reinforce the patriarchal power structure. I hate that word. It fills me with a heady mixture of lack-of-tenderness and rage. But otherwise, an f-ing triumph of a post! :--)

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    1. Jill, thanks for your overly kind words about the post; I really struggled writing that one and am just glad that it didn't put you to sleep since I was plenty sick and tired of it myself by the end! Anyway, on to the so-called nitpicking: 1) My own "inner grammatical muse" is on sabbatical, so it's quite possible that your use of "gone missing" might have prompted me to follow suit (i.e. ha, you might be to blame for that one and not me). 2) On a more serious note, very interesting points about the w-word. I agree that it's freighted in all sorts of mostly negative ways, but I intentionally used it here near the end (in addition to the less judgemental "prostitute" earlier in the post) for a couple of specific reasons: a) it's the term most often used by the characters in the novel; b) I wanted to impress upon any random visitors to the post that Marsé's novel isn't really for the faint of heart. I don't expect you to necessarily feel any better about the use of the term after hearing this, but two of the main characters in the novel--a male and a female actually--are prostitutes as are other characters more on the periphery. In this novel's world, the depiction of prostitution has less to do with the anti-female perceptions you mention and more to do with what people in general--male and female, adults and children--have to do to survive. Anyway, I'm glad you brought this up: I think this is the type of thing that makes a good opportunity for discussion, but I would have guessed other terms in the post would have been deemed more "offensive" if you had asked me beforehand. Cheers!

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  5. agree with Seamus something of shadow of the wind ,will look see if there is a second hand copy available on amazon there maybe ,all the best stu

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    1. It's a tremendous read, Stu, but all these mentions of The Shadow of the Wind and The Truth about the Savolta Case are making me start to wonder whether Spanish Lit Month should devote a week to books set in Barcelona if there's ever a Spanish Lit Month II!

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  6. Hmmm...the noun I'd put with "fucking" is not exactly "triumph". Perhaps we'll agree to disagree? Because frankly, I just didn't find this novel powerful.

    Although I do value your opinion, as always.

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    1. Bellezza, have you read Marsé's novel or did you just find it less than powerful based on my description of it? Maybe it doesn't matter: the storytelling style sort of anticipates Bolaño's in The Savage Detectives in some ways, so it probably wouldn't be up your alley either way. Cheers!

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  7. Richard, you're going to have to forgive me for a terrific blunder. (I see that your avatar is John Belushi, whom I always connect with Saturday Night Live as well as the film Animal House. Anyway, did you ever see the character Emily on SNL news skits? She'd say, "Never mind", and that's what I must say now.)

    In my carelessness I assumed you were discussing more of The Savage Detectives, which as you know I didn't adore. No wonder I wasn't remembering the parts you described in this post from the detectives; and I thought it was just because I didn't finish it! Silly me, no, I haven't read Marse's book and for that I deeply apologize. :(

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