From Publishers Weekly
Award-winning Spanish author Munoz Molina explores themes of memory and exile in this dense, ardent volume, his second to be translated into English (after Winter in Lisbon). "I have invented very little in the stories and voices that weave through this book," he writes in his author's note; in 17 chapters linked by theme and subject, readers meet men and women-both real and imagined-in the shadow of the Holocaust and the regimes of Stalin and Franco. In "Copenhagen," Munoz Molina reflects on the relationship between narrative and travel: on Franz Kafka's affair with Milena Jesenka, which was "crisscrossed with letters and trains," and a Jewish acquaintance's memory of a trip to Paris in 1944, when a jammed hotel door sparked the terror of a captivity narrowly avoided. In "Silencing Everything," a man from Madrid recalls his experiences as a soldier in Russia during WWII, and in "Sacristan," a man who left his small village for the city mourns the changes in his childhood home. The author himself appears as a character, a man in exile from his own life, drowning in his search for stories: "I have flirted," he says, "with the idea of writing a novel, imagined situations and places, like snapshots...." Munoz Molina's stories are intensely engrossing, but his prose can be tricky: he might switch mid-paragraph, for instance, from first-person to third-person narration, and his descriptions of physical details can take on the tone of an incantatory recitation. But patient readers will be richly rewarded by a nuanced view into a foreign world.
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Acclaimed Spanish novelist Munoz Molina's elegiacally beautiful novel begins with a poetic meditation on the bittersweet nostalgia that seizes those who live in exile. Now in Madrid, Munoz Molina's wistful narrator bemoans the fact that memories of his village boyhood are fading quickly and irretrievably. But it soon becomes clear that the past the narrator and the author are truly grappling with encompasses the entire Sephardic diaspora and the unfathomable horror and mass insanity of Hitler's and Stalin's regimes. How, Munoz Molina seems to ask, can a writer possibly convey such apocalyptic shock, terror, and grief? His answer: by awakening empathy through illuminating the psyches of the displaced and the tortured; by jettisoning the orderliness of a linear narrative, and the distinction between fiction and history, to construct, instead, a labyrinth within which the reader wanders into one vivid, precious, and lost world after another. Calling on such inspiring figures as Franz Kafka and Primo Levi for guidance, Munoz Molina creates astute, deeply felt, and exquisitely expressive testimony to love, suffering, and the astonishing fecundity of human consciousness. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved