Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A few months ago I went to a talk by Lydie Salvayre - in conversation with her translator - which was billed as being in English/French but unfortunately the translator took a unilateral decision that he couldn't be bothered translating as he went along. It was a hot afternoon in a stuffy room - I couldn't keep up and I lost the thread. But I came away having understood enough to make me think that I wanted to read the book. The event was packed, as always with ladies of a certain age - you never see men at anything like this, do you? - and they all seemed to have read the book in their book groups. They must be very switched-on book groups because, although this won the Prix Goncourt, it seems to have got very little notice in the British press. I found this.

The novel is based on reminiscences by Lydie Salvayre's 90-year-old mother whose memory is failing but who can vividly recall the events of 1936 when for one glorious summer Spain seemed to be on the brink of a Socialist utopia. I don't think I've ever read a better book about the Spanish Civil War, or about any civil war ... the atrocities committed on both sides, the hideous complicity of the Catholic church. Salvayre grew up in France after her exiled parents fled from Franco's regime. Perhaps because she is a psychiatrist she writes with great insight about betrayal and idealism. In the past, I've always got horribly muddled by POUM and FAI and PSOE ... you know that feeling when you're drowing in acronyms! But in her mother's village - focusing on the rivalry between her obsessive bourgeois-Stalinist husband and her beloved Anarchist brother - suddenly it all fell into place  and the acronyms became real people tearing their lives apart.

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