Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bernardo Atxaga - The Accordionist's Son

Michael Eaude reviews Bernardo Atxaga's The Accordionist's Son.
Atxaga, born in 1951, came to fame with Obabakoak (1988), a fresh voice in Basque and Spanish literature. The Lone Man, The Lone Woman and Two Brothers followed in the 1990s and are available in English. The Accordionist's Son, first published in the Basque language in 2003, is his most accomplished novel (the wonderful Obabakoak is more a collection of linked stories). It is also his most ambitious, as it embraces the history of the Basque Country from 1936 to 1999.

The novel works on at least three levels: as an adventure; as a public story about the history and politics of the Basque Country; and a personal dissection of shifting mood and feeling, with Atxaga's customary precision. It opens with the death of the protagonist, David, on his ranch in California. His wife Mary Ann and childhood friend Joseba talk in calm sadness about love, death and the past. Two of Atxaga's strengths are at once apparent: his fine storytelling, as he draws the reader expertly into David and Joseba's childhoods in Obaba, and the directness with which he talks about emotions. Subtleties of feeling about death and childhood are expressed in simple, elegant language.
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