Translated from the French by Ben Faccini
A powerful account of the early days of the Spanish Civil War, seen through the eyes of a young girl.
Aged fifteen, as Franco’s forces begin their murderous purges and cities across Spain rise up against the old order, Montse has never heard the word fascista before. In any case, the villagers say facha (the ch is a real Spanish ch, by the way, with a real spit).
Montse lives in a small village, high in the hills, where few people can read or write and fewer still ever leave. If everything goes according to her mother’s plan, Montse will never leave either. She will become a good, humble maid for the local landowners, muchísimas gracias, with every Sunday off to dance the jota in the church square.
But Montse’s world is changing. Her brother José has just returned from Lérida with a red and black scarf and a new, dangerous vocabulary and his words are beginning to open up new realms to his little sister. She might not understand half of what he says, but how can anyone become a maid in the Burgos family when their head is ringing with shouts of Revolución, Comunidad and Libertad?
About the author
Lydie Salvayre is a former psychiatrist, who grew up near Toulouse after her exiled republican parents fled Franco’s regime. As a child she spoke Spanish, only learning French after starting school. She studied medicine and specialised as a psychiatrist in Marseille, before beginning to write at the end of the 70s, with her first works appearing in literary reviews in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille around the beginning of the 1980s. Her novel La Compagnie des spectres won the Prix Novembre in 1997 and was named Book of the Year by Lire. Pas Pleurer won the Prix Goncourt in 2014.
Memories are reduced to ashes in Montse’s head, except for one, still vivid, when she was 15 in 1936. The Spanish libertary revolution then gave her a taste for freedom and sensuality, though she grew up in a traditional and poor family. Salvayre cleverly mixes her mother’s blooming with Bernanos character discovering at the same time the horrors of the civil war in Mallorca. Salvayre’s writing is peculiar because it uses many words and sentences in Spanish inside a narrative in French. It reflects Montse’s language, a kind of fragnol as Salvayre calls it. It also echoes the mixed culture of the author. Her novel is a moving portrait of her mother and a worming tribute to her Spanish roots.
Based on her mother’s recollections of the Spanish Civil War, Lydie Salvaire skilfully interweaves fact, fiction and personal memory.