A 2001 interview with Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga.
Bernardo Atxaga sent no address, just a piece of paper with crosses marking the pelota court, the church, the fountain, and then his house, in relation to the three basic components of any Basque village. He might just have easily have been describing Obaba, the imaginary setting of his most famous book Obabakoak.
"No," he laughs, "Obaba is an interior landscape. You don't remember all the places of the past, but what sticks in the memory is this window, that stone, the bridge. Obaba is the country of my past, a mixture of the real and the emotional."
Atxaga is, as one critic has pointed out, not just a Basque novelist but the Basque novelist: a writer charged, whether he likes it or not, with exporting a threatened culture around the world. Born in 1951, Atxaga grew up in a Basque-speaking valley of scattered houses and villages near San Sebastian. Basque is a rural language, with no relation to neighbouring Spanish or French, and spoken in Atxaga's infancy by less than half a million people. Franco sought to eliminate it after the civil war: tombstones in Basque were torn up, and the language was forbidden in schools.
In evoking this Basque heritage, Atxaga avoids nostalgia, often the curse of writers recreating lost rural childhood. "The look backwards can be very deceptive, a siren song that any time past was better. You have to be very disciplined about feelings. If you let a sense of nostalgia dominate, you only write false texts." he says.
Two Brothers, the most recent of his works to arrive in the UK, is a short novel with a long history. It was written in the mid-1970s and published in Basque in 1985; Atxaga himself translated it into Spanish for publication in 1995. The two brothers of the title are orphaned in their adolescence. Paulo inherits the sawmill and too much responsibility, because his brother, Daniel, has a mental age of three. Like all Atxaga's characters, they have little room for manoeuvre. They are trapped in their situation, which is in turn aggravated by their neighbours. "Village life is tough. People are often disagreeable and ignorant," Atxaga says.
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