Except for a scattering of dream fragments and apocalyptic fantasies, State of Siege, Juan Goytisolo's eighth novel to be published in the U.S., begins reasonably conventionally. About a quarter of the way through, though, a major in the International Mediation Force, stationed in a Sarajevo-like city under siege, realizes that a letter he is reading "correspond[s] word for word to the contents of the first pages of the present book." From then on in it's all Russian dolls and Chinese boxes, a labyrinth of texts within texts that would have dizzied Borges. Goytisolo's narrative contortionism is not mere postmodern showmanship, but precisely the point—that the reader, like the inhabitants of the besieged city, is "caught in the rattrap," cornered in an epistemological purgatory in which "Reality has been transmuted into fiction: the horror tale of our daily existence!"Read More
Goytisolo, the 71-year-old author of over a dozen novels, is widely considered Spain's finest living writer—somewhat ironically, as he left Franco's Spain in 1956, living in self-imposed exile in Paris and North Africa ever since, where he has remained a harsh critic of contemporary Spanish society. He first visited Sarajevo during the summer of 1993, as a correspondent for El País. The result was his "Sarajevo Notebook" (published here in 2000 as part of the collection Landscapes of War), a series of impressionistic reports describing the horrors of the siege and attacking the international community's non-interventionist policy for its cowardice and hypocrisy. He returned in January 1994 and found that "the situation was more horrible than the first time. It was winter and the cold was terrible." The Serb bombardment of the city was constant. "It was impossible for me to write a second 'Sarajevo Notebook,' " says Goytisolo on the phone from his home in Marrakech, "but my impression was so horrible that I thought that the only way to answer this situation was through literature, and to oppose the truth of fiction to the lies of propaganda."
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