Book Notes: Rafael Chirbes’s Mimoun

Mimoun, the first novel of the great Spanish writer Chirbes, has been, in  my opinion, completely misunderstood by critics. In the novel, a depressive Spanish novelist moves to Morocco and dedicates himself to getting drunk, drugged and having sex with every Muslim man and woman, as well as every colleague, neighbor, and crossing sweeper he meets there. He gets drunk and has sex with them individually, collectively, inside, outside, in a car, in a brothel, and everywhere else he can think of. The novel is short because the endless cycle of alcohol, drugs, sex, depression doesn’t make for a very rich plot.

The whole thing is completely hilarious, and I’m convinced it’s a parody on the novels by the ultra-famous Juan Goytisolo. Everybody seems to have taken Chirbes’s first novel very much in earnest when it’s an obvious parody. The problem is that parody has been done so well in Spanish literature by Chirbes’s precursors that it’s best not to venture into this genre unless you can do something entirely amazing. And I’m not even talking about Cervantes’s attempt at parody that gave the world Don Quijote. In the XXth century, Spanish writer Juan Marse produced his brilliant parody The Girl in the Golden Panties. If you can’t top that, it’s better not even to try. And that’s why I’m not that impressed by Mimoun.

Author: Rafael Chirbes

Title: Mimoun

Year: 1988

Language: Spanish

My rating: 2,5 out of 10

Manuel Vilas

This weekend, I discovered a writer that I absolutely love. His name is Manuel Vilas and it’s a mystery to me how I managed not to know of his existence. His books don’t seem to have been translated into English yet but they definitely should be because he is fantastic. I’m now reading his book called España and it is beyond amazing. This writer even has a blog (it’s in Spanish).

The problem is that I can’t really read this author’s book because after each sentence I stop and spend 15 minutes walking around the house moaning, “Oh, he’s good. He is so good.” My neighbors must probably think I’m having some kind of a porn fest. He’s that talented. Manuel Vilas creates the kind of artwork that you can’t contemplate for too long because it overpowers you.

If you are looking for short stories that you can offer to your Spanish language students, check out this writer. He has a few that can definitely be brought into, say, an Intermediate level classroom. And he has many that can be used as material for graduate courses. Because he’s very good.

God, this writer is good. I will not rest until I now read everything he has ever written. I haven’t felt this way about a writer since I discovered Juan Goytisolo many years ago.

Sorry if this is of little interest to those who do not read in Spanish but I couldn’t contain myself. I will now go moan some more.

Ana Maria Moix’s Julia: A Painful Coming-of-Age Story

I had no idea that Ana Maria Moix’s Julia was available in English. But it turns out that a translation exists and you can find it right here. Amazon charges a completely ridiculous price for it but there are always used copies and libraries. 

This fairly short but brilliant novel was written in 197o when Spain’s fascist dictator Franco had only five years left to live. The novel was considered groundbreaking when it first came out because it addressed rape and introduced themes of female homosexual desire in ways that were very subversive of the patriarchal regime of Franco’s Spain.

I keep mentioning Franco, but this doesn’t mean a young woman growing up today would find Julia’s coming-of-age story impossible to relate to. Forty years after the novel was written, women who grow up in societies that consider themselves a lot more liberated than Franco’s fascist Spain still get initiated into the world of human sexuality through violent invasion of their bodies. They still feel unable to inscribe themselves into a demanding standard of “correct” femininity and struggle to reconcile their love of learning with living in a world that only accepts them as pretty, silly, and passive. They still often discover that experiencing queer desire marginalizes them.

The masterpieces of Spanish literature – which is obviously the most fascinating literature in the world – don’t get translated into English as much as they should. As a result, people who don’t speak Spanish are deprived of partaking in the joy and the beauty of these great works of literature. It’s good to know that Ana Maria Moix’s Julia will not join the ranks of books that are inaccessible to an English-speaking reader.