Here’s a true story for you. A 1930s feminist murders her own daughter because the daughter wants to live what we today call “a traditional lifestyle” and not be a feminist. How can you possibly go wrong with this kind of material? You can’t, right?
Well, if you are Almudena Grandes, you can.
Grandes is a Spanish writer who keeps churning out doorstoppers about the Franco dictatorship. Again, the Franco dictatorship offers tons of fascinating material. But Grandes’ thing is that she populates Franco’s Spain of the 1950s with characters who think and feel like extremely liberal people of year 2020 and they spend 780 painful pages feeling outraged about how everything around them is not progressive enough for their liking.
Grandes is a good storyteller, so I can usually get over this annoying habit of hers but in this novel Grandes as a storyteller loses out to Grandes the ideologue.
But wait. There’s more.
As a good 2020 liberal, Grandes hates religious people. The religious people she chose to tear into in this novel are Jews. She approves of the Jews who are completely secular, who have changed their names, and don’t even observe Sabbath.
But practicing Jews really get her goat. She goes on, page after painful page, ridiculing the speaking of Hebrew, the kippah, the Sabbath, the hair, the food, everything. Now, please remember that it isn’t just any Jews she’s ridiculing. In Grandes’ novel, it’s 1953, and the Jews are German Jews who have just survived the Holocaust. If there’s ever been a group of people who are not funny, it’s these Jews. Seriously, lady, first you create characters whose son was murdered on Kristallnacht and then you ridicule their yarmulkes? Why is that necessary?
There’s a terrible scene where the novel’s angelic protagonist who’s so tolerant he supports gay marriage and abortion in 1953 taunts a sad Holocaust Jew, telling him it’s stoooopid to experience any discomfort to avoid converting. The Jew isn’t given an opportunity to respond, of course.
It gets so bad that Grandes even uses the expression “a final solution” to describe the thought process of a kindly character who is trying to figure out how to make these annoyingly Jewish Jews less Jewish. I don’t believe Grandes used this expression consciously but I’m not surprised that it pops up when people are indulging their feelings of annoyance against Jews.
What’s particularly bizarre is that this plotline is completely unnecessary. The novel is already very long and tiresome. There’s absolutely no need to bring in a character who is a Rabbi in the last 80 pages only to ridicule him. The poor Rabbi clearly has nothing to do with the murderous feminist.
The treatment of the murderous feminist (who is a real historical figure) is also bizarre. The way that the murder of her daughter is dismissed and the killer mom is presented as completely justified brings to mind the trope of “post-birth abortion.” Since the novel is passionately pro-abortion, one begins to think that the fictional treatment of the daughter-killer is pointing in the direction of “hey, I mean, if the kid is really annoying and doesn’t even share your very progressive values, there are all sorts of good final solutions…”
It’s a bad novel, people. I don’t think it makes sense to write about an era you so thoroughly despise with the sole aim of communicating how much you despise it because you are so much more progressive and evolved. Especially if you aren’t even that evolved and think that Holocaust Jews make a good subject for ridicule.
Almudena Grandes is the real Frankenstein’s mother, and this novel is her deformed, ugly child.