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The Family of Pacual Duarte ()

Nobel Prize Winners (1989)

Second only to the inestimable Don Quixote in the pantheon of Spanish Literature, Cela's Family of Pascual Duarte was published in the same year as The Stranger (Albert Camus) and, treating the same themes, is its superior.  Cela was for many years denied the recognition he deserved due to his membership in the Falangist party and his service on Franco's side in the Spanish Civil War, but finally, in 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Pascual Duarte is a brutal Spanish peasant, shaped by poverty, ignorance and hatred.   The book recounts his mounting depravity as he goes from killing his dog to knifing a romantic rival to final horrific matricide.  Duarte falls prey to the type of alienation and world weariness described by the Existentialists.  He describes himself prior to killing his mother:

    The day I decided I would have to use my knife on her, I was so weary of it all, so convinced in
    my bones that bloodletting was the only cure, that the thought of her dying didn't even quicken my
    pulse.  It was something fated, it had to be and would be.

And even as he writes this account of his life as he sits in prison, awaiting death, he acknowledges:

    ...there are moments when the telling of my own story gives me the most honest of honest
    pleasures, perhaps because I feel so far removed from what I am telling that I seem to be repeating
    a story from hearsay about some unknown person.

But Cela, unlike Camus, seems to trace Duarte's pathologies to his environment, to the circumstances of his life, rather than trying to make a universal statement about the human condition.  Duarte is a distinct type, but one that has been all too familiar in the Century.  His alienation, amorality and brutality are summed up in a chilling assertion of his own inhumanity:

    ...I'm not made to philosophize, I don't have the heart for it.  My heart is more like a machine for
    making blood to be spilt in a knife fight....

Nor does Cela offer much philosophical elaboration, neither to explain Duarte nor to offer a cure for the world's Duartes.  Instead, what is really noticeable here is the absence of any institutions to inculcate values or venues in which to express individual aspirations.  Missing are the Church, an open economy and participatory democratic structures, the triune basis of modern Western civil society.  In this sense, the novel sounds a cautionary note about the sorts of men that arise in this kind of moral vacuum.

The novel is raw and powerful and compulsively readable.  It's outrageous that it is not currently in print in English translation, but it is available through used booksellers and many libraries may stock copies from when he won the Nobel.  Either way, it is well worth your effort to track it down.


Grade: (A-)


Camilo Cela Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Camilo José Cela
-INTERVIEW: Camilo José Cela (Valerie Miles, Summer 1996, The Art of Fiction No. 145, Paris Review)
    -ESSAY: Madrid's Forgotten Nobelist: Cela’s novel warns that man endures irredeemably even after the revolution. (David Randall, Apr 17, 2023, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son by Camilo José Cela (Complete Review)

Book-related and General Links:
-OBIT : Camilo José Cela, Spanish Writer and Nobelist, Dies at 85 (ALAN RIDING, January 18, 2002, NY Times)
    -OBIT : Camilo José Cela : Literary witness to Spain's time of war and dictatorship (Michael Eaude, Friday January 18, 2002, The Guardian)
    -Universidad ad Camilo José Cela
    -Camilo José Cela y Trulock (Nobel site)
    -Camilo Jose Cela Winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Literature (Nobel Prize Internet Archive)
    -ESSAY : Spanish book prize turns into a drama  (Giles Tremlett , April 26, 2001,  The Guardian)
    -ARTICLE: Spain and Its Writers Celebrate A Long-Awaited Renaissance (EDWARD SCHUMACHER, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: Spanish Think of Cela As a TV Iconoclast Rather Than a Writer  (ALAN RIDING, NY times)
    -ARTICLE: An Author Who Is Blunt About Life, Evil and Sex  (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: Camilo Jose Cela Wins Nobel Prize; Spaniard Broke Taboos in the 40's (SHEILA RULE, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: Sarah Kerr: Shock Treatment, NY Review of Books
        The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo José Cela and translated by Anthony Kerrigan
        Journey to the Alcarria: Travels Through the Spanish Countryside by Camilo José Cela
        The Hive by Camilo José Cela and translated by J.M. Cohen
        San Camilo, 1936 by Camilo José Cela and translated by John H.R. Polt
        Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son by Camilo José Cela and translated by J.S. Bernstein
    -REVIEW: Raymond Carr: The Spanish Tragedy, NY Review of Books
        The Spanish Republic and the Civil War 1931-1939 by Gabriel Jackson
        Journey to the Alcarria by Camilo José Cela and translated by Frances M. López Morillas
    -REVIEW: of MAZURKA FOR TWO DEAD MEN By Camilo Jose Cela (Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: SAN CAMILO, 1936 The Eve, Feast, and Octave of St. Camillus of the Year 1936 in Madrid. By Camilo Jose Cela (Frederick Luciani, NY Times Book Review)