Obabakoak is Bernardo Atxaga's best-known book, the one that brought him a small international reputation. Yet it's perhaps his least straightforward novel. It's a novel that operates on several different levels of reality.
Bernardo Atxaga is the pen name of a writer called Joseba Irazu Garmendia, from Asteasu, Gipuzkoa. (Not so long ago, it was not a smart move to write in Basque under one's own name). A storyteller from Asteasu has access to the world's treasure trove of stories. But he chooses to write his own Basque stories as well.
While Atxaga is definitely a novelist, Obabakoak may or may not be a novel. It may be just a collection of stories. Connected or unconnected. It doesn't matter. There are no characters that you can follow all the way through the book, not even the village of Obaba which only appears and reappears from time to time. Obaba is a dark, mysterious place. A place where both local and universal stories are told. People from the outside are out of place there, and they stay that way. Nor is it all about Obaba. Parts take place in Hamburg, Peru, Castile, Iraq, and China. This is a Basque book and it is an international book.
(The title Obabakoak may or may not mean: The things and people of the village of Obaba; It may be just that obaba is the sound a Basque baby makes. )
This is a brilliant, moving book. It does not exploit the reader. It is about storytelling. It is about storytelling in a language understood by a small group of people: a people that understand that if they were to choose not to use Basque, they would be complicit in the death of one of humanity's oldest and most distinct forms of speech. There is not a political word in the book; it is all political. When a writer chooses to write in a language that is marginalized, it is a political act. There are no literary signposts for such a writer.
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