Patria (By Fernando Aramburu)
Tusquets Editores (2017)
¨Patria¨, a well thought, documented, structured, and composed novel, tells a story regarding the saga of two Basque families that extends through three generations. A fiction based on the period during which ETA, the Basque separatist organization, carried out many terrorist attacks for several decades in contemporary Spain.
In this novel, the author depicts an abundance of characters. One of the two protagonist families consists of both parents (Txato and Bittori) and two children (Xabier and Nerea). In the other family, we encounter both parents (Joxian and Miren) and their three children (Joxe Mari, Arantxa, and Gorka). In the course of the events, we come across other characters with secondary roles: the spouses of three of these children and their descendants, friends of the families, and people from the town where they live. Each of the main characters displays a distinct personality and way of speaking, accordingly to the age and level of education.
Before ETA took up the arms, the two families were friends with each other. But when a young Joxe Mari affiliated himself with the band and became a fanatic terrorist, tension arose between Miren and Bittori, one in favor and the other against ETA. Gradually, a similar discrepancy extended to many other families in town. Txato became the focus of sabotage. The band demanded he contribute with money to help with its political cause (the independence of the Basque Country from Spain) until local terrorists assassinated him. Bittori suspected Joxe Mari had been involved in the assassination of her husband, and she begins a quest to find out.
An anonymous voice tells the story, an intelligence which does not directly participate in the action but moves freely in space and describes the setting and the ongoing action during a particular time. This entity can read the mind of each of the main characters and describe what they think and feel (a form of narrative known as intimate third person) For example, Section 29 begins with a short paragraph that describes a character (Nerea) sitting in a coffee shop.
Sólo por justificar su prolongada estancia en la cafetería pidió un agua mineral. La tarde oscurecía ahí fuera. Pasaban coches con los faros encendidos. ¿Gente en el local? Poca. Y Nerea cambió de mesa. Ahora estaba sentada en un lugar más próximo a la Puerta de cristal, desde donde se observaba mejor el paso de los coches. La envolvía una sensación grata de recogimiento. Sola, soñolienta, no se le ocurría a dónde ir.
(Only to justify her long stay in the coffee shop, she ordered a bottle of mineral water.
Outside it was getting dark. Cars were circulating with the lights on. A lot of people inside?
Just a few. And Nerea moved to another table. Now, she sat at a place closer to the Glass Door,
from where she could watch better the ongoing traffic. She felt surrounded by a pleasant sense of
pondering. Alone, drowsy, Alone, drowsy, she was unable to decide where else to go.)
(Translation by José Luis Recio)
The first sentence in this paragraph (Sólo por justificar su prolongada estancia en la cafetería pidió un agua mineral) tells us (readers) that the narrator knows exactly why Nerea ordered a drink. By the second sentence (La tarde oscurecía ahí fuera) we readers understand that a strong connection exists with the character, Nerea, so close that we can’t discern who’s speaking whether the narrative voice or Nerea. By asking the question ¿Gente en el local? the narrator seems to address the reader directly; however, the narrative voice gives us the answer. Finally, the voice tells us that Nerea felt comfortable in the coffee shop and had no idea of where else to go.
This narrator, therefore, comes across as an intimate third person point of view, omniscient for a particular character. This form of narrating constitutes a conspicuous characteristic in this novel. It’s carried on with a friendly tone, using the Spanish language colloquially and plainly as an average citizen in the Basque country would do. It makes for an easy reading. The fact that the narrative content in each chapter includes both objective and subjective data regarding a particular character enhances the reader’s ability to follow the action in that particular chapter as a complete unit.
Each of the one-hundred-and fifty-five chapters or sections that constitute Patria has its own independent artistic merit. Although all chapters deal with the same background theme, the chronology of the events follows a traditional linear model only in some of them. Other chapters are shaped following a modular pattern in which the action and the passing of time differ from chapter to chapter, paragraph to paragraph, and even sentence to sentence. The distribution of the contents in these ones looks like the pieces of a mosaic. The writer adds and arranges a number of modular units which do not relate to each other in terms of time sequence, but they may be attractive in themselves for all sorts of different reasons and must serve the purpose of clarifying the story as a whole.
Each chapter starts in medias res; that is, the narrator begins to describe a scene in the middle of the action with disregard of what preceded it. This feature, far from being disappointing to the readers, adds suspense, which, in turn, enhances the attention and interest to keep on reading. Although at first sight, readers might get the impression that the chapters are randomly organized, like numbers extracted from a raffle, soon it becomes clear that all together they suit to the wholeness of a modern and strong novel.