On 19 August 1936 Hercules the boxer stands on the quayside at Coruña and watches Fascist soldiers piling up books and setting them alight. With this moment a young carefree group of friends are transformed into a broken generation.
Out of this incident during the early months of Spain’s tragic civil war, Manuel Rivas weaves a colourful tapestry of stories and unforgettable characters to create a panorama of twentieth-century Spanish history. For it is not only the lives of Hercules the boxer and his friends that are tainted by the unending conflict, but also those of a young washerwoman who sees souls in the clouded river water and the stammering son of a judge who uncovers his father’s hidden library.
As the singed pages fly away on the breeze, their stories live on in the minds of their readers.
Remember what Holando used to say about the French astronomer who only ate spiders? We can’t see them because they are spinning with our eyes, with the threads of light. If we eat them we might see the stars.
With my feet losing all feeling I forgot to mention this book is a tapestry of lives, there’s so much going on in each short vignette. The book has that lazy, hazy heat type of feel that serves Spanish speaking authors so well.
Each page feels crammed with oodles of detailed back story, Rivas manages to put into words some rich, lyrical images, thickly layered like sumptuous chocolate sauce on chocolate cake. Read it and languish in the good and bad of this evocative period of history.