Monday, April 16, 2007

Book Review: Nada by Carmen Laforet

Fernanda Eberstadt reviews Carmen Laforet's Nada.

I have to admit that, until a month ago, I had never heard of Carmen Laforet. The idea that there might be a lone woman in what seems the unrelievedly male pantheon of Spanish novelists of the post-Civil War era - an era which to outsiders, as Mario Vargas Llosa writes in his introduction to "Nada," seems to reek of "fustiness, sacristy and Francoism" - was like discovering an extra story built in a house you thought you knew.

"Nada" was Laforet’s first novel. It was originally published in 1945, when its author was 23, and it created a sensation in Barcelona. It has now been reissued in a new translation by Edith Grossman, and more than 60 years later the book’s odd charm is undiminished.

"Nada" recounts, in coolly understated first-person prose, the experiences of Andrea, an 18-year-old orphan from the provinces who arrives in Barcelona to stay with her dead mother’s relatives while she attends university.

Laforet makes us feel the force of this young woman’s long pent-up hunger to escape the oppressiveness of village life and her convent education. For years, Andrea has feasted on childhood memories of her maternal grandparents’ apartment in Barcelona, a haven of sophistication and ease from which she, because of her parents’ death and the war, has long been cut off.

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