One of my fun activities in Spain has been participation in a book club at the instituto. During the school year, we’ve read quite a variety of things. Some of the books have been translated from English, and others were written originally in Spanish. The other members like it when we’re reading the translated books, because I can often offer insights that would not be obvious to someone not familiar with American or English culture. However, I like it better when we read novels written originally in Spanish, because it gives me those same insights into Spanish culture.
Our last book (“La lluvia amarilla”, by Julio Llamazares) provided a good example of this. This is a book which would never be a best-seller in America, because the characters are too….well….too Spanish. Their actions would simply be incomprehensible to an American reader. I see that the book was translated into English back in 2004 (“The Yellow Rain”), but it never achieved much success. (The title in English is unfortunate; it makes me think of someone urinating.) In Spain, however, it is considered a modern classic. My companions in the book club told me that certainly the protagonist of the novel is an extreme case, but that they could understand how he felt. I’m not sure that I can.
It is certainly not a cheerful story. It charts the death of a small pueblo in the Pyrenees. The population had been diminishing over the years as the hard economic times forced people to seek work in the big cities. Finally, there is only one man living in the ruins of the pueblo, completely alone for ten years. He never considers leaving the pueblo where his family has lived for hundreds, or maybe thousands, of years. He is so obsessed with death that I found it difficult to read the book.
It is a phenomenon that happens in America as well, small rural towns shrinking or even disappearing as people move to the cities. Still, in America, I think that we see it differently. Certainly people like their home towns, but we simply are too young a country to have the same kind of attachment to a place that many of the rural Spanish do. Although the story is completely different, the American classic “The Grapes of Wrath” touches on some of the same themes. It’s a depressing novel as well, but it ends on a hopeful note. The idea of moving toward something new, as opposed to lamenting what is lost, is something that I consider very American.
A Spanish person’s attachment to his pueblo is understandable, even if I can’t quite understand the depth of the feeling. It reminds me of a Spanish movie I saw some years ago (in the original Spanish, of course!), in which a man had to flee his pueblo after killing someone in a complex love triangle. He finally returned, saying, “I would rather die in my pueblo than live somewhere else.” I think that says it all.