Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Blind Rider by Juan Goytisolo

Spanish septuagenarian Juan Goytisolo, in what is rumoured as his last book, has concocted one of these sweet opiates. His loosely fictionalised memoir Blind Rider, although terrifying, is intensely interesting.

Old age is a fascinating, headlong charge into oblivion by Goytisolo's measure and it looks as if it may be worth hanging around for. His protagonist, bitter and confused shortly after the death of his wife (the author's died in 1996), embarks on a journey through memory to try to understand this loss.

We are led on an ethereal drift across his childhood, his mother's death, the intense years of his young adulthood when he read Tolstoy and Kierkegaard and mystic theology, becoming a man of letters. There is no contented reminiscence or firming of identity, however. "Time was a blind rider nobody could unsaddle. As he galloped, he ravaged all that seemed enduring, transformed landscapes, reduced dreams to ashes," Goytisolo writes.

Ageing is presented as an exercise in despair, "a hole or voracious abyss down which memory plunged". You are born "to perpetuate oblivion ... Those around you will shed some tears over you but your image will dissolve like snow in a glass of water," God tells our unnamed protagonist while he sleeps.

His memories serve only to reinforce a vision of earth as a bloodbath of self-interest: where armies of children die every day, where no one and nothing is really remembered, where millions found nations on the fictions of religion and slaughter each other over disagreements in their cults of faith. These nightmares, Goytisolo writes, are what absorb the last days of an introspective life: when literary ambitions have dried up, when no more can be said and done, and one can finally survey the earth and its works. From his wizened perspective, only terror and absurdity seem the enduring themes of this mortal coil.

Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo was born in Barcelona in 1931. Since 1956 he has lived in voluntary exile outside Spain and now lives in Marrakesh. In 2004 he was awarded the prestigious Juan Rulfo International Latin American and Carribean Prize for Literature.

You can find the review here

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