Literary fiction, chunky classics, mysteries, Persephone’s, and needlepoint, you’ll find them all at A Work in Progress. Whenever I visit Danielle’s wonderful blog, I need to have a pen and paper ready, because I know she will mention a book that I’ll have to add to my “To Read” list. Her thoughtful reviews will take you all over the world. As part of our Guest Blogger Review series, Danielle is taking us to Spain with her review of the novel Nada by Carmen Laforet. So, enjoy her review and don’t forget to check out A Work in Progress.
Carmen Laforet’s Nada strikes me as a very European novel, though I’m not exactly sure if I can explain why. The setting is very firmly, albeit subtly, grounded in post-Civil War Spain. The story is narrated by eighteen-year-old Andrea who has come to live with her mother’s family in Barcelona after the death of her parents. There’s something very internal about the story. Andrea is an observer, initially a naive girl from the country. Many things happen, but not so much to her as to the people around her.
Nada, written at the age of 23, was Carmen Laforet’s debut novel and was awarded the first Premio Nadal in 1944. Apparently it caused quite a sensation when it was published. The novel is “one of the most important literary works of post-Civil War Spain” (per the book blurb) and Laforet is said to have had a profound impact on Spanish literature. I thought that was quite impressive in establishing Laforet’s literary credentials, though I admit I had not heard of her until Modern Library’s publication of the novel, which was translated by Edith Grossman.
The novel is essentially a coming of age story. And while it does feel very European to me, it put me in mind of a very American classic, also by a first time award winning novelist, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Although the stories are vastly different, Scout is also a keen observer of events and individuals around her. Over a short period of time tragic events will have life altering effect on the narrator. Much the same happens in Nada.
Barcelona in the 1940s is still showing signs of the ravages of war. Although Laforet never comes out and mentions the war, the rubble has yet to be cleared away and there is always a sense of it in the background. Andrea’s family is living in genteel poverty, literally struggling to get from meal to meal. The house on the Calle de Aribau, once filled with family heirlooms, is now a place of squalor. It’s slowly being dismantled and sold off to an itinerant ragman in order for the family to survive.
As if the surroundings were not odd enough, Andrea’s family is full of unusual characters–her aging grandmother who will go hungry in order that the others have enough food, controlling Angustias, violent-tempered Juan and his passionate but disturbed wife Gloria, and talented but destructive Roman fill the panorama against which Andrea will come into her own by the end of the story. How Andrea manages to exist and flourish despite the family’s daily melodramas is nothing short of a miracle.
Andrea’s wealthy university friends serve as a foil for her impoverished family. It becomes glaringly obvious just what penury Andrea lives in compared with her more bourgeois contemporaries. She’s befriended by a group of Bohemian would-be artists, but it’s her friendship with attractive and wealthy Ena that will set off a series of events that’s both liberating and tragic. Ultimately, however, Andrea will find her own happiness.
I’m so glad that Modern Library published Carmen Laforet’s novel. The prose is vibrant and elegant, at least Edith Grossman’s translation of it is vibrant and elegant, but I would expect nothing less from her. It’s not hard to see why it is considered a classic of Spanish literature, and I highly recommend it.