divendres, 19 de maig de 2017

Black Bread novel

Author: Emili Teixidor
Translator:Peter Bush

In the rough hill country of rural Catalonia, the Spanish Civil War is over and the villagers live under occupation by the fascist Civil Guard. With his father in jail, facing possible execution as a subversive, and his mother working long hours in a factory, eleven-year-old Andreu is sent to live with his grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins in a farmhouse in a remote valley.  His inquisitive, self-taught grandmother encourages him to study, but who will Andreu become? He doesn’t want to be a farmhand, or work in a factory, or flee into exile in France like his uncle and aunt.  His cousin Núria invites him to play sex games with her in the woods, but Andreu cannot stop thinking about a young man he sees lying naked in a monastery garden.
Confronted on all sides by the need to define himself, Andreu must make a difficult decision. One of the major novels of contemporary Spain, and the inspiration for the first film in the Catalan language to be nominated by Spain for an Academy Award, Black Bread brings to life a rural world of mythical force as it traces with piercing psychological insight, in gorgeous prose, the movements of a boy’s psyche as he contemplates growing into an adult.

There is nothing more profound than the realization of what war does well beyond its official end. Peter Bush has given us a poetic translation of Emili Teixidor’s novelBlack Bread, in which each line seems to be given complete attention and where Teixidor has loaded line after line with both wonderful and terrible beauty. From the opening scene to the finale, the narrative of war and chaos and coming-of-age is underpinned with what seems an eternal forest—a natural world that holds secrets and desires and will ultimately outlive all the pettiness that is humanity. 
Though the narrative of Black Bread is based in Catalonia just after the Spanish Civil War, it is a timeless setting for contemporary humanity. This is a novel that will stick with us because of the continued relevance of divisive social orders in addition to the complexities of religion and politics. Telling a story of war, class divisions, sexuality, religious doctrine, executions, and fascist rule from the point of view of a young boy is, perhaps, one of the best ways to deliver a litany of existential questions without a hint of preachiness. It unfolds flawlessly, through honest characters, scenes, and descriptions of rural Spain. From the start, we are folded into a familiar world—the close relationships that children have as they grow up together; the hard-working family; the grandmother with infinite wisdom.  
Ultimately, Emili Teixidor’s novel allows us to see aspects of ourselves by situating us in moments of sympathy for the speaker. Teixidor’s linguistic brushstrokes paint everything we need in order to see ourselves just as the speaker finally does himself: that we are, in the end, always somehow at war within ourselves. That we are all doomed to someday grapple with moments so uncomfortable and arresting that we might find ourselves completely changed into something we no longer recognize. 
Sarah Warren
University of North Texas


Praise for Black Bread
“This richly written saga, set in the Catalan countryside in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, 11-year-old Andreu has gone to live with his grandparents while his father awaits execution for reputedly subversive activities. Initially, Andreu enjoys romping with cousins Quirze and Núria—the old plumtree is their base of operations—and Teixidor’s details of family, school, and country life are homey and surprisingly gratifying. The story gets darker and increasingly interesting as we learn more about Andreu’s parents, with Andreu reflecting bitterly on his meek mother’s single-minded obsession with saving his off-balance father and proclaiming, “Love burns. Love destroys. Love kills.” His confusion is compounded when he’s distracted from Núria’s teasing sex games by the sight of a young man stretched out naked in a monastery garden. Eventually, Andreu must leave his own garden for the wider world, convinced that he’s a monster. VERDICT: A taut and tender coming-of-age story that’s both resonant and intriguingly different.”Library Journal
Black Bread frequently alludes to memory’s instability, its wavering between continuity and transience: What images and words trigger memories to reappear? Why do some individuals stay in our mind longer than others? … PerhapsBlack Bread’s most distinctive achievement is the acute awareness … of both the harsh reality of [the protagonist’s] time and the somnolence of a life fading away before ones eyes, beyond his control … A bold, commendable effort to expose a troubling legacy from the past. ”—Music & Literature
Black Bread… builds slowly, through the accrued detail of seemingly disconnected scenes… or, let’s say, a string of scenes where the narrative throughline is not immediately apparent to the reader.” —Ron Hogan, Beatrice
“An intense, dazzling work that evokes the hard post-Civil War years in the valleys of rural Catalonia through the eyes of a boy who belongs to the world of the war’s losers … One of the best novels of recent years.”

—La Vanguardia (Barcelona)

“Teixidor’s iron command of narrative technique allows the voices of his unforgettable characters to reach us across the gulf of their hopes and miseries.”—El País (Madrid)
“Teixidor achieved an absolute best-seller with Black Bread, a novel written in a very rich style, full of subtleties, and appealing to a wide range of readers.”—El Periódico (Barcelona)
“Exile, repression, cold and hunger in a rural milieu are the background to Black Bread. Teixidor pioneers a new approach to the literary presentation of historical memory that is full of subtle distinctions and avoids the facile dualisms of good and evil.”—ABC (Madrid)
“The name of Emili Teixidor is now inseparable from Black Bread.”—La Nueva España


There is an interlude, just shy of a third of the way into Black Bread by the late Catalan writer Emili Teixidor, where the narrator steps back from his childhood reminisces to question the nature of memory. He asks why some things stay etched on his memory while he has forgotten others completely, and wonders, “how can I know I have forgotten what I can’t remember?” He recognizes that some places, people and incidents fade quickly whereas sometimes a word can come back unexpectedly and ignite a flood of distant memories. These reflections appear as a curious break in a narrative marked by a degree of youthful naiveté, but remind us that the journey from childlike to mature understanding is uneven and necessarily distorted in retrospect. So, although it is never entirely clear just how far removed the protagonist stands from the experiences he is sharing, as his account continues his ability to hold on to his own innocence will increasingly come into conflict with the harsh realities of life in post-war rural Catalonia.
In recent years, much revisionist debate has been dedicated to exhuming questions of the true impact of the civil war and the Franco dictatorship on Catalan culture and society; “true”, that is, depending on where one’s interests lie. Against this backdrop, a novel like Black Bread, originally published in 2003 when Teixidor was seventy years-old, could easily be construed as an attempt to reclaim history through lived memory. That may, in part, be a fair assessment, but this novel offers much more. It is, on one level, a tender and sensitive coming of age story, one that filters the joys, fears, mysteries, and discoveries of the fitful transition to adolescence through the unaffected lens of childhood memory. Our narrator, Andreu, an astute observer of his own confused emotions, must learn to navigate a world filled with dark dangers and even darker delights. He knows there is much going on around him that he doesn’t understand—truths that he isn’t certain he even wants to understand. However, his growing awareness and conflicted reactions open space for an indirect but honest commentary on the realities of Catalan existence during this time. In this respect, the work can be seen in line with that of writers like Josep Pla and Mercè Rodoreda.
The recent release of Black Bread as part of the Biblioasis International Translation Series, in a wonderful rendering by Peter Bush, brings one of the major novels of modern Catalan literature and its author to an English language audience for the first time. Born in 1933 in Roda de Ter, a small town halfway between Barcelona and the French border, Emili Teixidor was a writer, teacher and journalist. He began to write fiction for children and young adults in the late 1960’s as restrictions against publishing in the Catalan language were gradually relaxed. In a short essay written in 1998 when he was still best known as a children’s author, he addresses the satisfaction of writing for young readers and the value of the imaginary worlds we encounter in our formative years:
. . . I think that there is a mystery or secret that concerns us all, old and young, such as an inkling of the immense possibilities regarding the future that these years hold, so that the seriousness and even the sadness of adults would be nothing more than the awareness of loss or the wasting of this original force. These images, these books, also have a liberating function. They have the capacity to help us to escape from specific situations that overwhelm us. There is nothing more frustrating than the impossibility of escaping, of fleeing. . . . The dramatic urge to live and the ferociousness of existence would seem to pose a threat to the wealth of wonders that we accumulated during our early years. But the reserve of these possibilities and the indestructible trust in the achievement of the desires expressed by these images or sentences, situations or characters, is probably the only thing that can keep us solely hopeful and strong during the difficult years – if not the only thing that can keep us truly alive.
There is something telling in this observation, it illuminates a concern that grounds the larger story that Teixidor sets out to tell about life during these tumultuous years of Catalonian history. By building on the delicate tension between the child self’s desire to hold on to the world of the imagination and the adult self’s disillusionment, he creates the compelling narrative voice that drives his most famous literary work.
Black Bread derives its title from the dark bread rationed to the poor throughout Spain during the 1940’s, the so-called “hungry years.” The early post-Civil War period was marked by widespread deprivation, the growth of a black market, and the persistent efforts of the Franco regime to root out suspected political agitators of all stripes. As the story opens, eleven year-old Andreu is living with relatives. His father has been imprisoned on suspicion of ties to political activism, while his mother works long hours in a textile factory. Her free time is consumed with gathering paperwork and support for her husband’s defense. Yet out on the tenant farm with his indomitable paternal Grandmother Mercè, he is not the only “refugee. His younger cousin Nuria, nick-named “Cry-Baby,” doesn’t even know the whereabouts of her parents who were forced to escape to France following the war. Together with their brash and confident older cousin Quinze, they spend long summer days lounging on branches high up in the plum tree. From this secret vantage point they can monitor the comings and goings of the adults to and from the farmhouse, and peek over the wall of the nearby monastery. If they want to get closer look they stand right by wall so they can observe with morbid fascination the naked bodies of the tubercular young men who lie languishing in the garden, drawing whatever faint benefits the sun can offer their ailing bodies.
Teixidor makes skillful use of his adolescent narrator’s limited retrospective stance, allowing his understanding to swell in response to the different circumstances he encounters. One has the sense that Andreu is aware that the fragile innocence of childhood can be easily threatened. His relationship with his parents, for instance, is already tinged with a bitterness and resentment that only grows stronger over time. After his father is arrested and their home is turned upside down by officials, he immediately finds himself emotionally estranged from his mother. His memories of the time he spends in town contain little child-like wonder:
She now spoke to me as if I had suddenly grown up. She spoke to me as you speak to adults. And that, rather than the brutal police raid, made me understand how serious the situation was. Suddenly, that despondent woman had no warmth of feeling left to see me as the child I still was; overnight she stopped holding my hand, that she put elsewhere, and no longer carried me around her neck so I had to walk by myself; now there was no time for singing and hugging because all her attention was required for someone in a much more fragile state than I was, and at a stroke I felt exposed and unprotected. I understood in a vague, confused way that she was simply feeling a new, acute pain, that the wife now predominated over the mother, and a wife’s harshness and tension overrode a mother’s loving inclination.
By contrast, the farm with its fields and orchards and forests, provides a refuge, a place where Andreu can still be one of the “young-un’s” as he puts it. Here mystery still exists. Efforts are made by the many adults around him—Grandmother Mercè, his aunts Ció and Enriqueta, “Dad” Qunize, the farmhands, and Father Tafalla from the nearby monastery—all try to protect the children from the very real threats that exist around them. This is, after all, a time when the slightest provocation could bring the authorities to the door. People were very careful to conceal their thoughts and communicate indirectly rather than risk speaking openly.
Andreu does not imagine himself a good student, or a bookish type, but he is acutely aware that the language the adults use is doubly charged with meanings that he can only guess at and he is alert to the fact that there are things that are not discussed in his presence. He and his cousins struggle to figure out the moral location of the words they hear bandied about so much. They are eager to know what makes someone a “bastard” or a “bugger” and what defines the difference between “our folk” and “others.” Yet they are enraptured by Grandmother Mercè’s stories, the funny and scary tales she regales them with, especially at night. Her tales are a comfort and an entertainment, but the stories of the goblins who run up and down the stairs provide a cover for the maquis, or guerillas, who still pass through the farmhouse seeking food and shelter on their way to France.
Although they live in a time of much subterfuge and unspoken tension, the children work out much of their own anxieties and excitement through the games they play in the forest. Here, together with “Oak-Leaf,” a girl Quinze’s age, they challenge one another to tell shocking stories, creating their own mythologies about the strange habits of animals and people, especially characters like Charcoal Pete who is caught stealing potatoes or Mad Antònia, the young woman who reportedly went crazy after seeing her boyfriend executed before her eyes and now runs naked through the woods. There is a raw enthusiasm to their attempts to figure out the “facts of life,” and their desire to make sense of the more arcane truths of the world.
Doubts do begin to work into Andreu’s conscience as time passes. With the hormonal stirrings of adolescence, he and his young cousin begin to tentatively explore each other’s bodies but, for some reason that he can’t quite fathom, his thoughts tend to be preoccupied with an image of a particular young man lying among the ill and dying in the monastery garden. He cannot reason why the sight of this one youth commands his passions so completely. But, by this point he has noticed that some adults manage to hide dark secret lives, so he assumes that this is simply a hint of the double existence all grownups lead, something he will come to understand in due course. His more serious doubts begin to extend into the realm of religion, social class, and the limitations imposed by society. A cynicism, borne of what he has witnessed with his own parents, sets in. He vows to avoid being tied to a life on the land or on the factory floor, the fate awaiting most of his peers:
I didn’t consider myself to be either strong or courageous enough to be like them, but I had learned that the providential, orderly universe that my agricultural-labourer or factory-worker schoolmates intended to inhabit was an illusion, and that if I wanted to survive, I should trust only in myself, that my strength lay in my powers of dissimulation, my inner struggle, my partial, oblique adaptation to the moment and the concealment of my true intentions; my weapons were treachery, sleight-of-hand and deceit, if need be.
However, when he is offered an opportunity to escape, with the means to continue his schooling and create his own future, Andreu is caught off guard and isn’t entirely sure what he wants to do.
The true power of Black Bread lies in the author’s ability to capture the nuances of adolescent experience in a time of turmoil and change. A cast of memorable characters, interpreted through the memories of his sensitive young narrator allow Teixidor to create a world with true emotional depth. Although this novel only covers about three years of Andreu’s life, it has an epic feel. As elements of sadness, grief, and anger slowly begin to work their way into our hero’s voice, it easy, as a reader, to feel a sense of loss; it is as if we have allowed ourselves to grow up again alongside him. Here one can’t help but feel that Teixidor’s experience writing for children and young adults has been parlayed into a narrative that rings true to remembered childhood experience, but is clearly aimed at the adult reader. In the end, we are reminded how important the “wealth of wonders” that we accumulate through the imaginary worlds we encounter in literature are to our ability to understand and survive challenges in our own lives. For Andreu who has been nourished on the stories that his Grandmother, his teacher, and his friends tell, we are left to wonder whether it will be enough to provide him with the strength he is likely to need in the years that lie ahead.

Joseph Schreiber

Joseph Schreiber is a writer and photographer living in Calgary. He maintains a book blog called Rough Ghosts. His writing has also been published at 3:AM, Minor Literature[s], The Scofield and The Quarterly Conversation. He tweets @roughghosts



Acclaimed in its home country of Spain when it was originally published in 2003, this poignant novel by the late Catalan writer Teixidor combines a rural coming-of-age story with the harsh politics of post–civil war Spain. Eleven-year-old Andreu, whose father is a political prisoner and mother is a factory laborer, is sent to live with relatives in rural Catalonia after the war. He settles into a seemingly idyllic rural life with his cousins, initially unaware that the children are suspect because of their parents' socialism. But Andreu's cousins are becoming more interested in sex than in childish games, and his father's sudden death in prison contributes to his political awakening. He wants to avoid the fates of those around him—farming or factory work—but struggles to envision another future for himself. The structure of the novel is intriguing: early on, it could be a bucolic, meandering memoir, interspersing the rhythms of daily life with a few memorable incidents, but both pace and tension increase as Andreu grows up. Teixidor's rich writing style adds to the lush rural feel of the novel, evoking a setting like that of Marcel Pagnol's novels while incorporating a great deal of complex political nuance. Agent: Dan Lazar, Writers House. (July)—Joseph Schreiber

In this richly written saga, set in the Catalan countryside in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, 11-year-old Andreu has gone to live with his grandparents while his father awaits execution for reputedly subversive activities. Initially, Andreu enjoys romping with cousins Quirze and Núria—the old plumtree is their base of operations—and Teixidor’s details of family, school, and country life are homey and surprisingly gratifying. The story gets darker and increasingly interesting as we learn more about Andreu’s parents, with Andreu reflecting bitterly on his meek mother’s single-minded obsession with saving his off-balance father and proclaiming, “Love burns. Love destroys. Love kills.” His confusion is compounded when he’s distracted from Núria’s teasing sex games by the sight of a young man stretched out naked in a monastery garden. Eventually, Andreu must leave his own garden for the wider world, convinced that he’s a monster. VERDICT A taut and tender coming-of-age story that’s both resonant and intriguingly different.


One of the major novels of contemporary Spain, and the inspiration for the first film in the Catalan language to be nominated by Spain for an Academy Award, Black Bread brings to life a rural world of mythical force as it traces with piercing psychological insight, in gorgeous prose, the movements of a boy's psyche as he moves from youth into adulthood.


Midway through Emili Teixidor’s Black Bread, a question surfaces: “Does memory have a guiding thread or purpose?” The many enigmatic qualities of memory seem to be under investigation here and throughout the entire novel. Its qualities alongside its centrality in the understanding of ourselves: How does it shape the type of person we become? Would we be completely different with a whole new set of memories? Black Bread frequently alludes to memory’s instability, its wavering between continuity and transience: What images and words trigger memories to reappear? Why do some individuals stay in our mind longer than others? Yet perhaps the most disquieting aspect of Teixidor’s insistent investigation is his consideration of memory’s value in our relationships with others: Do memories demand fidelity to loved ones? If friends and family start to fade from the mind, does their importance diminish with them? As the burden of these inquiries takes hold, the adolescent narrator of Black Bread, Andreu, realizes that the dissolution of his connections with the past—-the ephemerality of meaning that this precipitates—-is a fate worse than death.

At the core of this erasure is the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The book centers on the “hungry years” of the 1940s, when Andreu has been left to stay at the farm of his relatives, in a small Catalan community complicit in the act of forgetting. They, the war’s defeated, do little to resist the supporters—-landowners, civic authorities, priests—-of the victorious General Franco from instituting their hegemonic system of rule. Few choose to acknowledge what has come to pass, yet the preceding years’ barbarity endures in subtler forms of terror: house raids, slanderous gossip and the threat of exclusion by the powers that deny and confer privilege. In this setting characterized by sadism and deceit, Andreu must reckon with his own identity and purpose. Yet he struggles to make sense of his memories’ arbitrary influence, haunted at the same time by those integral to his notion of himself, and those expelled without reason.

The immediacy and bitterness of Teixidor’s prose, conveyed in a flawless translation from Catalan by Peter Bush, suggest that similar phantoms haunted the author through the end of his life. Published in 2003, when Teixidor was seventy years old, Black Bread was identified by Bush, in an interview with Words without Borders, as the last part of a “triptych” of Catalan novels that addresses the theme of war, with Uncertain Glory (1956) by Joan Sales as the first part, followed by Mercè Rodoreda’s In Diamond Square (1962). Like many texts that address this theme, Black Bread examines the most irreconcilable elements of war’s aftermath. It is an affirmation of the Sebald quotation used for its epigraph, that “we are still fully within that era,” that the trauma and consequences of such events linger on in the recesses of the collective memory long after all attempts to bring closure.

Yet it is not only the memory of these years that motivates Teixidor’s writing, but also how they are remembered. He is unsettled by the faulty basis of our own interpretation of life’s episodes as they happen to us. Revisionist histories may be rife with inaccuracies, but we, agents of perception for what will soon be “the past,” are not necessarily reliable. An epigraph by Agustín García Calvo articulates the inevitably reductionist character of those narratives that attempt to synthesize the historical with the personal:
The deceit of History is the deceit Reality introduces . . . A times comes when you recall an event from your own world and don’t feel happy with the explanation, with the way Reality has been categorized and quantified. You feel that it wasn’t true; it aspired to be the truth, but didn’t make it.

Coupled with Andreu’s statement that “time only mattered when you looked back,” these observations reflect a cynicism toward the validity and nuance of those judgments we make without any temporal remove (and thus, presumably, any emotional remove) from the moments in question. Yet Black Bread is not a restorative act—-with statements such as “the passage of time only ravaged everything,” there are no insinuations of possible reparation—-yet we are enabled to fathom the vast scope of the human loss that has its origin in these years, as it exists to this day. Time has its way with the novel’s characters, shapes their actions, their desires. What remains, tainting even the most benign memories, is despair for the future, the caesura from the lives they could have perhaps led in a different era and place.

These concerns seem a long way off in Black Bread’s beginning chapters, where Andreu describes his life with his cousins on the farm and in the surrounding woods, a “shrine that hid and safeguarded the mystery” of his future. Teixidor frames each opening according to the different seasons, a method of introduction to the children’s activities throughout the year: resting on branches in the old plum tree, hoping to catch the leaves changing color; sitting before the fireplace; wandering through the forest on the way home from school. His cousins are Núria (mostly referred to as Cry-baby), who like Andreu, has been left behind by her Republican parents, and the older Quirze, the next in line to take over management of the farm from his father, “Dad Quirze.” Andreu and Cry-baby live out the games and fantasies of childhood, while Quirze, who claims he doesn’t dream, is contently resigned to the routine, unimaginative life that awaits him in maturity. The somber world of adults is kept at a distance for Andreu and Núria by Grandmother Mercè, in her heart still the “young lass” she once was, whose fantastic, “authentic” stories help “transform cruelty into happiness, laughter and hope. Death, into life.”

The afflictions of war begin to encroach upon this idyll. The stability suggested by the rituals of the passing seasons, is in truth, illusory. A stark contrast emerges between the paradise of the child’s imagination and the “strange and terrible worlds” of adults. We learn of the imprisonment of Andreu’s father for political activity, how his mother, through grueling shifts as a factory laborer and an obsession over her husband’s well-being, ceases to treat her son as a child. Tensions grow between Dad Quirze and the “four bigwigs,” local authorities who resent his “sitting on the fence” during the war, and his current lack of overt support for the Nationalists “cleaning up the Fatherland.”

Tragedies within the community are revealed as well, mostly in the form of gossip. One of the cousins’ main sources is their tomboyish companion from school, Oak-leaf. She tells of Mad Antònia, a mentally-ill woman who roams the forest naked and saw her lover, a deserter, shot before her eyes; and Charcoal Pete, a poor thief whom the ecclesiastical and political authorities parade before the townspeople in a humiliating display of authority.
Yet the most foreboding and evocative allusion to the grim crimes that unfold beyond their worldview comes in the form of a disemboweled, stolen horse. Left to rot on the farm grounds, the mayor and civic guards seek a scapegoat for this felony, and make Dad Quirze responsible for its removal. The ignoble, mysterious death of a beautiful animal signals to the children that their days of innocence are coming to an end. “Once we’d run out of stories, the ghost of that dead horse returned to fill the gap in our conversation,” says Andreu.

Love and sex also have a significant role in hastening Andreu’s initiation into the “remote, concealed, fitful world” of adults, yet he is reluctant to embrace them, knowing full well that they “always bring unhappiness, or at the very least are linked to all kinds of chaos.” The women in the novel (revealingly) are most affected. In Andreu’s family, they are mostly tragic figures trapped in a fixed role they did not wish for. There is Aunt Felisa, who laments her forced marriage to a man she doesn’t love; Aunt Mariona, disgraced after her elopement with a married man, now working as a maid in Barcelona; and Aunt Enriqueta, averse to a domesticated life, whose rumored affairs threaten to engulf the family in scandal. The inadequate conditions for the fulfillment of romantic and sexual desires suggests that neither are possible at a time of such constrained individual freedom.

The adolescents are not spared the darker associations of these yearnings. An erotic attraction to the Dionysian “dark side of life,” not unlike Aschenbach’s in Mann’s Death in Venice, is behind Andreu’s fixation on a young male tuberculosis patient, one of the “living dead” who sunbathe in the monastery garden bordering the farm. This character’s suffering, martyr-like in the eyes of Andreu, is emblematic of the mysterious “injustices of life” he has yet to identify, before he learns that forgetting is “a pit deeper than death itself . . . the death that was definitive.”

A greater consequence in his emotional development (or regression) occurs when Cry-baby invites Andreu to explore her body in a hide-out in the woods, where she reveals to him that she has been abused by their teacher at school, Mr. Madern. In the discovery of these feelings of resentment towards the only man in town who acts as his mentor, he finds that he needs enemies to prove his self-worth, to distance himself from a life of anonymity. At great cost to his relationship with his family, he concludes that this hatred is a “huge step forward on the road towards the conquest of the outside world, towards growing up.”

There are other factors that strengthen Andreu’s desire to abandon what has now become his home. First of all, he considers himself an “infiltrator” with a “fractured existence” within the community, a status that has helped him acquire a sharper capacity for observation. He is now all too wary of the submissive, “‘defeated’“ generation to which his classmates belong, whose only aspiration is that “their minimal presence should perpetuate an established order [in a] universe where everybody sooner or later found their slot.” These reflections inform an important decision later in the novel, where he is forewarned by two images in his mind that may come true should he falter in his choice. One is of the “filthy factory” where his mother worked and the “boredom of so many hours of routine toil,” the other of an offer by the parish priest to join a school in the nearby city of Vic with the “best-regarded boys in town,” those “destined to administrate.” Andreu fears the lack of independence of both scenarios, in their essence the predominant career paths of Francoist Spain.

Secondly, Andreu realizes that the postwar social structure does not enable the poor to balance obligations to family and loved ones with any notion of self-determination. He knows this all too well from his experiences with his parents. It is arguable that in a different time both his mother and father would have been able to dedicate themselves fully in their commitments to another person or cause—-in the former’s case, her husband’s freedom, in the latter’s, the rights of workers—-without neglecting their obligations to Andreu, yet the political tensions of their time make this task close to impossible. Andreu’s attitudes towards his parents are complex, shifting between outright resentment and reverence. Often, the lack of attention they provided gets the best of his emotions, causing him to view his parents as another agency for the injustices of the world:
Quite unintentionally, driven by the injustices of life we all suffer, she’d taught me to do without love. I suspected, in some way or another, that she could have avoided that, and also, that my father could have looked after her rather than roaming the streets and spending hour after hour trying to put the world to rights . . . My father preferred to spend his time solving other people’s injustices of life and thus brought injustice into his own home. Those injustices fell in turn, like a row of dominoes, so nobody was ever left standing, ever, anywhere.

Yet Andreu shares his parents single-mindedness. Later in the novel, when offered the opportunity by the farm’s landowners to study at an exclusive school, he is eager to escape from the town, away from Cry-baby and Grandmother Mercè, and to avoid, at all costs, “emotional attachment to another person.” As he takes advantage of the chance to advance in society and in life, Teixidor raises an unsettling question: if forced to face this choice by political and economic circumstances, to what extent should we sacrifice our prospects for individual success for the well-being of those closest to us; or for the greater social good?
In this respect Black Bread shares a strong parallel with the Dickens novel Great Expectations. Both Andreu and Pip are provided with opportunities to pursue loftier ambitions and in these endeavors neglect those closest to them. Their motives to distinguish themselves may be different—-Pip views marriage with the unfeeling Estella as the ultimate success, while Andreu aims to prove his independence from love—-yet the memories of those they left behind become too resilient for them to ignore. The key difference is that Dickens allows Pip to finally direct his love a way from Estella to willing recipients—Joe Gargery, Biddy, and the convict, Magwitch. With Andreu, in contrast, there is a near complete break with his previous life and any hopes of redemption. Though he recognizes the extent of his dehumanization, he is despondent that his former feelings can ever be fully retrieved.

Such uncertainties permeate Teixidor’s writing, and much of this derives from the fact that Andreu’s reflections on his life, his recognition of memories as they happen, emulate the passage of a dream. Perhaps Black Bread’s most distinctive achievement is the acute awareness in Andreu’s narrative of both the harsh reality of his time and the somnolence of a life fading away before ones eyes, beyond his control. An analogy of a photograph being taken at a pivotal moment of departure captures this state of captivity. In this instance, the actual only takes on significance through remembrance and observation, not direct influence:
. . . waiting for the gadget to click so we could go back to our normal gestures, wanting all that to be immortalized in someone’s memory, in my memory, the memory that freezes us in a few seconds at an exact given time, on a byway of existence, in an ordinary context that only a photo or memory can transform into something special.

Black Bread offers no hope of awakening from Joyce’s nightmare of history, yet it is an bold, commendable effort to expose a troubling legacy from the past, to show those incongruencies and tensions that still have a bearing on contemporary society. Wars may shift localities and participants over time, but their atrocities never diminish in impact, often setting lives that once seemed impenetrable to their harm on a wholly different and frightfully unknown course.

Tyler Langendorfer is a writer and translator. A former editorial assistant with the London-based New Books in German, he now lives in Brooklyn.


A Novel of Post-Civil War Spain

Through the voice of its child narrator, Andreu, Emili Teixidor’s novel Black Bread offers a penetrating look into the years of hunger in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, roughly 1940-1950. As a kind of Bildungsroman, it escorts the reader through Andreu’s coming of age in a world of winners and losers that is haunted by the specter of the recent war, a reality that shapes how he grows up and winds up warping his pure and innocent spirit. Therein lies the critique that broadly steers Teixidor’s story: the young protagonist becomes a stand-in for a society that is forced to abandon its beliefs to survive in a country ruled by a dictatorial regime.
The black bread of novel’s title refers not only to the widespread and extreme poverty of post-war Spain, but also to a society that is dry, harsh, cruel, and soul-less, and that can lead astray even the most innocent of its members. The journey told in this novel is a double one, as Andreu’s life provides a pretext to reconstruct history through stories, giving voice to the past silence that articulates what she calls “the deceit of history.” Following in the footsteps of authors such as Ana María Matute (First Memory, 1959), Carmen María Gaite (Among Anti-macassars, 1957) and Juan Goytisolo (Fiestas, 1958), Teixidor uses the pure but critical point of view of a child to describe the consequences that the Civil War had on the defeated but, even more so, on the construction of social, cultural, and political discourses that many years later would define the transition and subsequent democracy. In other words, Teixidor attempts to show the perseverance in contemporary Spanish society of discourse rooted in the historical and social limitations imposed by Francisco Franco’s regime.
Two quotations that open the novel warn the reader about the inevitable and difficult connection between present and past, and history’s aspirations to tell the truth even if not always successful. As Andreu’s teacher, Mr. Madern tells us, “Considering that history is written by the winners, and the defeated don’t have the right even to a footnote in the big book of history….”  What is claimed to be truth becomes something else. And here is where the reader becomes an unusual protagonist, charged as we are with recovering and making meaning of a narrative of silence about the past that has constituted the basis of Spanish democracy even today.

Teixidor uses the pure but critical point of view of a child to describe the consequences that the Civil War had on the defeated.

The linear narrative that covers several years in Andreu’s life contrasts sharply with the gaps, silence, and lack of information that characterize the world of adults that surrounds the protagonist. This illogical world is marked by the hypocrisy of the adults’ actions and the irrationality and corruption of the post-war period, and is what will pervert Andreu’s purity as he attempts to give meaning to the hushed stories that make up his everyday life. Here we see the connection between past and future through not just Andreu’s eyes but also through the constitution of words and, therefore, the novel we hold in our hands. Fiction inundates every aspect of daily life, not just the protagonist’s but ours as well. The imaginary world that attempts to give meaning to the puerile world of children unmasks the fiction of the reconstruction of history.
The author could be accused of committing the same mistake as those who wrote the official history. Like all authors do, Teixidor proceeds to create a narrative based on the selection of specific information—just as Andreu does—which together along with the rupture of a strictly chronological storyline, the simultaneous coexistence and absence of voices, and the Manichean division between good and bad, between children and adults, lays bare the manipulation of the narration and the gaps that are filled by fragile and not always dependable memory, whether information from newspapers or fairy tales. That is how Andreu’s grandmother explains reality to her grandchildren, and that is how we the readers receive it. Their stories begin with claims like, “Once upon a time there was, and you must believe that this is truly authentic…,” and like them, we believe we know the stories—all true—that they tell us. However, we only need one story, or even one new word, to change what we thought we knew so well.
By following the life of Andreu, Teixidor takes us on a voyage that makes us question what we know about the past and what we think we know about the present. In a moment in which organizations like the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (2000) and the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory in Catalonia (2005), and laws like the Law of Historical Memory (2007), are trying to make amends for the pact of silence that formed the basis of Spain’s transition to democracy, Andreu’s story reminds us not just about the problems that underlie the distortions of Francoist historiography and the official amnesia of the Transition, but also the problems that underlie the reconstruction of any illusory truth, wherever it may come from. And in this reconstruction we must acknowledge and accept, as our protagonist discovers, the monsters that dwell inside of us.

Olga Sendra Ferrer is an assistant professor of Spanish at Wesleyan University. She is currently writing her first book about the construction of Barcelona during the dictatorship.


·         interviews

The Hungry Years in Catalonia: An Interview with Peter Bush about “Black Bread”
Black Bread, one of the major novels of Catalan literature, makes its appearance in English in the Biblioasis International Translation Series this month, in a translation by Peter Bush. Series editor Stephen Henighan asked Bush about the narrative world of the novel’s author, Emili Teixidor, who grew up in rural Catalonia under fascist occupation.
Stephen Henighan (SH): As soon as you begin readingBlack Bread, you’re aware that you’re in the presence of a major work of fiction. What is the novel’s place in Catalan literature?
Peter Bush (PB): I think Emili Teixidor has written one of the finest novels I know about the impact of the aftermath of civil war on adolescents and their rural community. It happens to be the 1940s, the so-called “hungry years,” in Catalonia, but the experiences can’t be far from those of most young people who find their parents have been defeated and that the victors simply intend to continue the war by other means. Andreu’s retrospective narrative is remarkable in the way it portrays the historic moment—the repression, fear, subterfuge, and deception of adults; the children’s sense of that; and the nervous, edgy excitement that is nevertheless still generated by their games in the forest where bodies and imaginations remain free to explore and interact.
SH: Emili Teixidor opens Black Bread with an epigraph from W.G. Sebald to the effect that the Second World War is not over and we still live in a period dominated by this event. The novel’s early pages portray a Catalonia that feels very much under military occupation by fascism. Is the outcome of the Second World War perceived differently in Catalonia than it is in, say, France or Germany?
PB: Black Bread is, I reckon, the final part in a triptych of major fiction in Catalan about the experience of war that can be compared to, say, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, all written by novelists who experienced war and then came to write about it much later. First came Uncertain Glory by Joan Sales, about Barcelona and the Aragonese front, started in 1948  when he returned from exile in Mexico and published in 1956, then rewritten, with the definitive version coming out in 1971. Second, in 1962, was Mercè Rodoreda’s In Diamond Square, the novel of a working-class woman’s struggle on the home front to survive with her children in Barcelona during and after the civil war. Rodoreda went into exile in France in 1939 and didn’t fully return to Barcelona until 1972. Finally came Black Bread in 2003, when Emili Teixidor was seventy. Another long gestation that brings to the reader a passion and freshness, as though the 1940s was here and now. It also shares the other two writers’ ironic, unromanticized view of the civil war.   
You only to have to watch the rise of the far right across Europe and the activities of Putin to see that the kind of nationalism that leads to war on a continental scale is reviving apace. We saw what happened in Bosnia. In Spain politicians on all sides agreed to silence any debate over the civil war as a prerequisite for the democratic transition. Catalonia was under fascist occupation after the civil war, as was the whole of Spain. The Catalan language was banned from public use; three generations received no schooling in their mother tongue. Books that were published in Catalan circulated through clandestine channels. This situation steadily improved after Franco’s death in 1975, but a recent conservative Minister of Education announced that it was to time to “españolizar” Catalan children and the Catalan education system . . .
Catalan and Spanish democrats hoped that the Allies would intervene in Spain after the Second World War against Franco. Many Catalans in exile fought with the French resistance and many ended up in the Mathausen concentration camp. W.G. Sebald wanted to insist that the “lessons” of the war hadn’t been learned. You feel that Teixidor’s passionate intensity is driven by his desire to tell it as it was, as he lived it as a young man, against so much revisionist fiction and history that tries to make out that both sides were equally bad, or encourages us blithely to forget all that old-fashioned stuff from years ago and live for the present. 
SH: In some ways, Black Bread forms part of a long European tradition of the pastoral novel. Yet there are also surprising divergences. I’m used to reading pastoral novels where the church is an integral part of the rhythms of life on the land, yet in Black Bread the country folk with whom Andreu is sent to live have a hostile relationship with the Catholic Church, which has facilitated and supports the rule of General Franco. Was this hostility of peasants to the established church a common phenomenon in postwar rural Catalonia?
PB: I think that the “all is bliss in the organic rural community provided for by God and His Church” is only a small strand in the pastoral novel from the nineteenth century onwards. Balzac’s peasants and priests are generally a tightfisted bunch on the make, and the English countryside in fiction from Jane Austen to D. H. Lawrence is rife with class conflict, however much the latter tried to idealize primitive bloodlines. In any case, although Spain was a poor, agricultural economy until the 1960s, in the 1940s, in the south of the country, one of the poorest in the world, there weren’t many peasants left. In Andalusia, Murcia, and Almeria there were masses of landless laborers with work only during the olive season on the vast estates. In Catalonia there were and still are lots of tenant farmers who cultivate the land and live in the mas or attached accommodation that belongs to absentee landlords like the Manubens in the novel who drop by occasionally to pick up their cut of the profits. These farmhouses are often striking buildings that date back to the Middle Ages and have been extended over the centuries. They can have military towers and be quite fortified because they may have had to cope with incursions from North African pirates or, later in the nineteenth century, with the fallout from three civil wars and the struggles over the First Republic.  
A country’s pastoral tradition is conditioned by its history. My grandfather was a shepherd in a small Lincolnshire village and he saw three of his sons go off to France in 1914 and never return, but he never saw war in his own backyard. It is true that Andreu’s family lives by pastoral rhythms, that he and his cousins revel in their favorite tree and their games in the forest about which his grandmother tells wonderful stories, and they enjoy their experience of nature, trying to catch the moment when leaves change color and joining in harvest-time activities, natural cycles their own adolescent hormones reflect. Part of Teixidor’s genius lies in the way Andreu’s narrative mixes a powerful sense of a paradise lost with the hard graft of farm life and the tensions from the civil war. There is the dead horse that suddenly appears on the path to school, the raids on the farmhouse by the Civil Guard, rumors of the Maquis (the guerrillas), Mad Antònia running naked, distraught ever since her boyfriend was executed in front of her, grandfather’s traditional transhumance with his flock of sheep to the Pyrenees that also enables him to smuggle material into France, just as there is more than meets the eye in grandmother’s tales of goblins in the attic.
One of the aims of Francoist propaganda was to depict the war as a Catholic crusade against the “atheist-masonic-judaeo-bolshevik” Second Republic. The Catholic hierarchy supported Franco to the hilt. However, many republicans were Catholics who wanted social justice. In Catalonia, many priests were Catalans and proud defenders of their Catalan language and culture, and the same went for the Basque country. The novel maps these nuances. We feel the daily oppression of people that the Bishopric helps to enforce by, for example, making attendance at mass compulsory for the whole population and First Communion obligatory for all children. Andreu’s Uncle Quirze is one who refuses to go to church, but, on the other hand, he welcomes into his house the Father Superior of the Camillus monastery who goes out of his way to help the family, and seems to be aware of the clandestine activity passing through the farmhouse. Father Tafalla isn’t Catalan, but from Basque Navarre.
SH: Andreu’s father is imprisoned for political activity, and in precarious health. The town where Andreu’s mother lives gives us a glimpse of a different kind of provincial life: the factory town, where the workers are politically aware and openly disparaging of the dictatorship. To what extent were the factory bosses and the big landowners a single class, and to what extent were they different groups with different interests?
PB: Catalonia’s industrial revolution started in the late eighteenth century with the manufacturing of textiles, and this meant that where there were rivers in the countryside there might be power to drive the looms, so you find factories in rural areas. In other areas, the cork industry was important. All this increased the shift from the land to industry and brought the economy into the ambit of Europe, and politics and trades unions into towns and villages. You get the sense that the factory town in the novel is starting up afresh after the war and that there is a tension between those in the farmhouse and the women going off to the factories. In the bus that Andreu’s father drives that takes the women workers to the factories, the women sing, flirt, and engage in political banter that Andreu picks up on. They’ve moved out of the kitchen and have an independence of mind. Manubens, the landowners, have also moved from agriculture to industry to find bigger profits. I think that was a relatively common progression for Catalan landowners. The other side of Catalan industrial development was the necessity of migration. The factories drew workers from the land locally and then from the south and Galicia.
SH: One of the novel’s most intriguing characters is the grandmother, a simple woman who merely by virtue of being literate trains herself to remain well-informed on political matters and is capable of analyzing current events. How great is her importance to Andreu’s decision to pursue his studies rather than remaining on the farm?
PB: The grandmother is a real matriarch. She is a fount of folklore and archaic language, yet at the same time the one who insists on getting the daily newspaper brought from Barcelona and having sacred time in the afternoon to read it when nobody is allowed to disturb her. She brings the Allies and a different journalistic register into the conversation. Her presence and risqué stories fascinate the children. She asks probing questions about the politics of the schoolteacher who is abusing her granddaughter, and encourages Andreu to agree to being adopted by the Manubens. She also seems to control the political activity going on in the house. Acutely aware of the importance of education in offering opportunities to escape the drudgery of work on the farm or in the factory, she is pragmatic in the advice she gives her grandson.
SH: Homoerotic themes are present throughout the novel. Even as Andreu is engaging in sexual experimentation with his female cousin, he admires the bodies of sunbathing young men. By the end of the novel, it is clear that he has defined himself as being of a same-sex orientation. My friend Josep-Anton Fernández has written extensively on Catalonia’s robust tradition of gay fiction. Is Black Breadseen as participating in this? Do Catalan readers regard Emili Teixidor as part of the same tradition as Terenci Moix, Lluis Fernandez, or Biel Mesquida? Or is his position a different one?
PB: I don’t really see Emili Teixidor as a “gay” novelist like the three you mention. Terenci Moix and Lluis Fernández were very camp and exuberant in their plots and language; Bel Mesquida is quieter in tone and deliberately creates a style that is dense, poetic, and challenging. Teixidor tends to tackle themes of sexual repression within fictions that are more openly realist and identifies sexual desire as one among many aspects of life that were demonized by the Church and fascist state. He speaks of the church instilling a fear of the body alongside a state constructed through the injection of fear into every pore of society. Andreu’s rationalization of the images of naked male flesh from the monastery flashing through his mind as he engages in sex-play with his cousin Cry-Baby is a sign that he is growing into an adult, as adults indulge in those kinds of double standards all the time. At the same time, Teixidor’s treatment of his characters’ sexual coming of age is delicate and lyrical, a beautiful loss of innocence in a countryside full of rutting dogs, mounting bulls, randy priests, and lusty civil guards. He writes the Catalan language wonderfully, to comic and tragic effect. I think the specific voice of Andreu’s moral qualms of conscience draws more on writers like Josep Pla and Mercè Rodoreda.
SH: What, for you, are the differences between translating a living author, who may be able to provide the translator with explanations concerning obscure passages, and one who has recently died (in 2012), as in the case of Emili Teixidor? Were you acquainted with Teixidor?
PB: It depends on the author and the work. I’ve always found living authors ready to answer queries. When you translate dead classics, you can turn to a body of scholarship or other translations. Unfortunately, I never met Emili Teixidor and there is not a huge amount of good critical writing about his work. In any case, I was able to have a kind of posthumous conversation with him over my translation. When I’d finished an almost final draft and had a number of questions that I’d have liked to have sent to my author, I got hold of his own translation into Spanish and found that he had answered most of my questions in the course of doing that translation. For example, in the Catalan original, the word poble for town was sometimes used and it wasn’t always clear in my readings which town was being referred to; that was clarified in the Spanish. I’d thought about translating some of the nicknames; he does that in the Spanish. However, I also discovered that Teixidor extended some parts of the narrative, in particular enriching the characterization of the grandmother, and I was able to incorporate those new elements—more juicy stories—into my translation.
SH: You had a long and active career as a translator of Peninsular Castilian fiction, and some Spanish-American fiction, before you began putting much of your energy into translating Catalan literature about a decade ago. How is the Catalan scene different? Do you have a different relationship with Catalan writers than you did with the Castilians?
PB: Yes, I’ve translated seventeen works from Catalan since 2007. I was quite shocked when I added it up! Peninsular and Latin-American writers use a world language; it requires no explanation. Catalan is an unknown quantity for most readers, for whom there are no immediate literary points of reference. It is a language and culture mainly without a state (Andorra being the exception) within a state that is constantly threatening it. That’s the negative side it confronts. On the other hand, I have discovered writers like Emili Teixidor, Josep Pla, Catarina Albert, Joan Sales, and Mercè Rodoreda, who are major writers, and it is great to be able to translate them and give them visibility in the English-speaking world.
Further Reading:
Peter Bush’s translation of “The Not-So-Perfect Crime” by Teresa Solana in WWB’s October 2007 issue: “Rambles through Catalunya.”
Peter Bush’s translation of “Field of Battle, Field of Fruit” by Francesc Serès in WWB’s May 2008 issue: “Public Lives, Private Lives.”

Stephen Henighan’s translation of “Comrade António and the Cuban Teachers” by Ondjaki in WWB’s September 2007 issue: “Our Sonnets from the Portugese.”