Book Notes: Saizarbitoria’s Martutene

816 pages, folks. Damn. Not much of a plot yet this novel reads faster and more intensely than any mystery. It’s so good that I dragged this brick of a book with me everywhere even when I knew I’d have no chance to read because just holding it was extremely pleasant. 

Saizarbitoria is a writer of immense talent. Every year there’s a search for somebody at least marginally deserving of the Nobel, and all this time there’s this incredible genius just sitting there, churning out works of art like you have no idea. Saizarbitoria made a very valiant choice to write in Basque, which means consciously accepting that you’ll have fewer readers and a lot less fame. Plus, writing in Basque is harder than in Spanish because of what the language is like and its history. There is a discussion of all of this in the novel, and it’s fascinating.

There is so much in this novel. Dying marriages, sex between old men and young women, medical ethics, art blending into life, translation pitfalls, ETA, the Basque language, historical memory. I can’t talk about all of it here, obviously, so I’ll just mention the part I found the most curious. Martutene is the best exploration of stunted emotional development that I’ve ever seen. Basques – how do I put it extremely mildly? – are not entirely unknown for being somewhat impoverished in terms of their emotional range. 

It can be a bit frustrating to read about characters who are emotionally as stupid as sacks of hair. But it’s also funny once you realize what the author is doing. Hey, I finally understood what caused the greatest romantic disaster of my whole life back in the day. 

Of course, now I want to drop everything and read more Saizarbitoria. The fellow has been writing since the sixties, so there’s a lot to read. Incredible novel, simply incredible.


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