(trans. Peter Bush)
In the course of my literary perambulations (see previous post) I recently discovered the work of the Catalan-Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo, a writer whose name it seems is hardly known in the Anglophone world despite the existence of several excellent English-language translations of his novels.
Goytisolo is a fascinating figure, in that while he has chosen to spend almost his entire adult life living outside of Spain much of his literary work is characterised by a near-total obsession with the land of his birth. Despite living in Morocco, he also still manages to write a regular column for the newspaper El País (for whom he worked as a war correspondent during the 1990s in Bosnia and Chechnya).
Goytisolo is a man of contradictions - he grew up in Barcelona during the 1930s and 40s in an impoverished bourgeois household whose forebears had been the owners of vast sugar plantations (and hundreds of slaves!) in Cuba. Goytisolo's father was a strong Catholic and ardent supporter of General Francisco Franco, however the revelation that his mother's death in 1938 had been due to a Nationalist bombing raid alienated Goytisolo from his father (who had suppressed the truth and always blamed his wife's death on "the Reds").
An additional factor impelling Goytisolo's journey towards exile was his alienation from Spanish culture and the Spanish language, a reaction provoked as Goytisolo says in his memoirs by "the ignorant, small-minded priests" (the Jesuits) who educated him. As a result, he did not even read Cervantes until he was in his late 20s.
In 1956 Goytisolo went into voluntary exile in Paris, France and was soon associated with the leading cultural and literary figures of the French Communist Party. He also became an enthusiastic supporter of the Cuban Revolution, but after a number of visits there he became disillusioned with the Castro regime. In his memoirs he tells of giving a speech at a secondary school in Havana as the invited guest of the Cuban poet Navarro Luna, arriving just as some girls were being publicly censured in front of the entire assembly for being lesbians. Goytisolo describes the overwhelming feeling of hypocrisy he felt as he went onto the platform to give his address
Goytisolo published a number of novels throughout the 1950s and 60s to a modest level of critical acclaim, while at the same time working for the French publishing house Gallimard (in the course of which he came to befriend writers such as the Mexican Carlos Fuentes and the Cuban Cabrera Infante). However, it was with his Álvaro Mendiola trilogy (published between 1966-1975) that he really made his name. The second book of that trilogy in particular - Reivindicación del Conde don Julián (published in English as "Count Julian") - stands (albeit a little ironically as we shall see!) as a masterpiece of Spanish literature and the ultimate condensation of Goytisolo's personal, philosophical and political thought.
To be continued...