on February 29, 2012
This is a much-beloved novel by the twentieth century Spanish author Miguel Delibes, considered by many his best work. It's a kind of Spanish version of Tom Sawyer, only more profound, or perhaps Huckleberry Finn, but not as dark. It recreates the world of a small rural village in the north of Spain as seen through the eyes of a young boy and his two friends. Everyone has a trenchant nickname, children and adults alike, and sometimes it's hard to tell who is the real child and who the real adult. There are many memorable characters, including the powerfully built blacksmith, the town busybody, the priest, the marques, the factor at the train station, etc. The main protagonist's father decides he needs to go to the "big city" for further education, and the impending separation from his boyhood home hangs over him throughout the work. He falls in love with an older, rich girl, then realizes the impossibility of this romance and accepts the love of a younger girl who he originally considered a pest. One of his two friends dies in an accident, and his grief is profound. Ultimately he achieves a deeper understanding of himself, his future, and his place in the world as he departs for the city.
The novel is poignant, bittersweet, entertaining, humorous, and wise. Each short chapter describes an event which depicts some aspect of the world in which the boy was born and spent his mostly happy childhood. There is a glossary of many of the Spanish words in the back, which makes it easier for the Spanish learner to look them up. The novel is prefaced by accounts in English of the life of the author and by detailed analyses of the themes of the book. Notes in English are provided to explain aspects of Spanish life and culture likely unfamiliar to the non-Spanish reader which are mentioned in the novel. All in all this is an excellent experience for anyone who is trying to improve their ability to read Spanish literature. I strongly recommend it to anyone with at least a year of Spanish instruction who would like to learn more about Spain, the Spanish language, and twentieth century Spanish literature.