I received a review copy of this title from Hispabooks via Edelweiss. The original book was published in Spanish and this translation has been done by Harold Augenbraum.
This is a difficult title to review because it is impossible to describe the beautiful and philosophical language which permeates the book. When the narrative begins Felipe Díaz Carrión is returning to his home in a small village in Spain, but returning from where we do not yet know. When he reaches his native village he takes great comfort in the familiar surroundings in which he grew up; the trees, the road, the nest of Egyptian vultures, the bronze doorknocker on his house and a cross which is the grave marker for his own father are all soothing to him. As a person who likes her routine and is comforted by old, familiar things, I was mezmorised by the first few pages of this story as Felipe slips back into his peaceful and calm surroundings.
We are told that Felipe not only grew up in this small village, but he also met his wife, married her and started a family here. When his son is about ten years old Felipe loses his job as a typesetter and he decides to move his family to a city in order to find work. While in the city Felipe takes a job at a chemical factory and he settles into a new pattern where he walks the same road every day to work. But the road in the city is greatly contrasted to his favorite road in the small village. Whereas the small village dirt road is full of nature, is serene and peaceful, his road to work in the city is crowded, polluted and noisy. But Felipe happily makes this transition for the good of his family, or so he thinks.
While his family is living in the city, his wife Asuncion gives birth to their second son. Felipe is thrilled to have another son and he is proud to give his second son his own name. Felipe’s relationship with the younger Felipe is tender and one built on respect and mutual interests. But during this time trouble with his firstborn son also arises. His eldest son spends less and less time at home and develops an attitude of disdain for his father. It appears that his son has become radicalized through contact with his friends and acquaintanes in the city. Felipe’s wife also becomes distant from him and she develops a newfound confidence and outspokenness about her. She starts to attend political meetings at her friends’ homes and she even arranges her hair and clothing differently. For twenty years Felipe calmly watches as his wife and oldest son grow farther and farther apart from him and their comments about his pacifism become increasingly abusive.
The biggest question facing the reader in the book is why Felipe turns a blind eye to his son’s and his wife’s radicalization, even when it is apparent they are breaking the law. There is a lot of imagery, as one can imagine from the title, that revolves around blindness. Felipe is shunned by his neighbors and beaten badly; his youngest son comes home with a black eye and his eldest son disappears for months on end. During all of this Felipe doesn’t see or even try to see what is going on. There are clues that he has suspicions about his son’s behavior, but he never confesses that he truly sees what is going on. The significance of eyesight and blindness is further enhanced by the prolonged descriptions of the Egyptian vultures who nest around his home village. They eat the softer parts of their prey like the tongue and eyes.
When Felipe is given an early retirement package from the chemical plant he realizes that there is nothing left for him in the city and so he moves back to his beloved village by himself. He lives there peacefully for about year when he younger son shows up to deliver the awful news that his oldest son is accused of some horrific crimes. Felipe is devastated and keeps wondering how much he is to blame for his son’s actions. Felipe then takes us on a journey through the memories of his own father’s murder which he witnessed as a young boy. It is no wonder that Felipe has become passive and almost numb to the things around him. But does the fact that Felipe turned a blind eye to his son’s behavior mean that Felipe is partly responsible for his son’s horrible crimes? At which point in his son’s upbringing should Felipe have intervened? And, finally, if he did speak up and intervene, would his son have listened to his father’s advice?
This is my first experience with a publication from Hispabooks. I am so impressed with the beauty of the language and philosophical questions this book raises. I can’t wait to see what else is in the Hispabooks catalog.
About the Author:
J.Á. González Sainz is a Spanish fiction writer and translator and co-founder of the Centro Internacional Antonio Machado, a Spanish language learning center for foreign students based in Soria, his hometown in Spain. He won the Premio de las Letras de Castilla y León in 2006, a prestigious Spanish literary fiction award.