Last night this blogger finished reading Javier Cercas’ Las Leyes de la Frontera in its Spanish original. An impressive and very engaging book as it explains a (mostly?) fictional story before the background of real Spanish history and settings between 1978 and today.
Javier Bilbao wrote a review in the Spanish Jot Down Cultural Magazine of which some parts are reproduced here:
“… a middle-class youth, of charnego origin [despective for children born to Spanish immigrant families in Catalonia; blogger’s comment] but who has learned well Catalan (this is how he defines himself), with his glasses and clothes that make him appear a formal type and of a disfunctional family such as any other, sees himself thrown into an unbridled life of delinquency, drug addiction, and “rumbas”, simply as the circumstances lead him to get into bad company. This is the story told by Javier Cercas, set in the Girona of the late 1970s. Narrated in the form of interviews of various of the protagonists, who years later explain each their version of the facts, the author recreates this shadowy world of juvenile delinquency and drugs that got to become a real Spanish movie genre of its own [an article on this in Spanish here].
Ignacio Cañas, “Gafitas” [“the one with the glasses”], as he becomes known, is an adolescent who suffers from the bullying of those who once were his friends, which leads him to frequent new territories only to evade them, during a summer with a lot of time and very little company. This allows him to get to know El Zarco, a juvenile delinquent -clearly inspired by the real-life El Vaquilla [Spanish Wikipedia entry]- who ends up recruiting him for his gang. Even if this was the original motive for this capture, what afterwards made Gafitas stick with this gang was his love for a girl called Tere, also a member. Women leading men to perdition, as always. With this new incorporation, the gang gets to commit break-ins and hold-ups that become more audacious all the time, and their leader will become a mythical figure, thanks to the media and the movies he inspires.
As Cañas says when he remembers El Zarco, a myth is “a popular history that is partly true and partly a lie, and it tells a truth that cannot be told only with the truth”. Reality ends up becoming a myth by the narrations that so fascinate us reading, hearing, and narrating, and the myths for their part turn into models to be followed … and therefore end up forming part of reality. This and other things make up this story, and as it is a novel [and not a movie as those mentioned above; blogger’s comment] it saves us from watching the surprisingly naff and tatty “kinky” aethetics, but it also deprives us from listening to the florid language of characters such as El Pirri [actor who starred in “kinky” movies and died at age 23 from a heroin overdose; blogger’s comment].
So what stays with us is an agile and very entertaining tale.”
More on Cercas can be found in the Wikipedia. Anne McLean translated these novels by Cercas into English: The Anatomy of a Moment, Soldiers of Salamis, The Speed of Light, and Tenant & The Motive.
Update: this article’s subject was also translated by Anne McLean and published as Outlaws by Bloomsbury Press.
The Guardian had this review.