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There is no worse experience in reading than opening a book or turning a page to be greeted by an uninterrupted block of prose, devoid of indentation. Never mind that the great wall of words in these run=on paragraphs always represents indiscipline, repetition and inflated self-importance, even worse is the obvious absence of an editor. Self-indulgence is bad, indulgence by the publishers even worse. When the book you're holding is over 600 pages, you know you're in real trouble.The third strike here is the self-consciously Proustian title.

Antonio Munoz Molina is a widely respected Spanish author, even mentioned as a contender for a Nobel Prize. This novel is translated by Edith Grossman, famed for her recent Don Quixote. And the cover blurbs hail the book as great literature. So when it was available on Amazon Vine I thought I'd give it a read.

But then all of the above was profoundly off-putting. And the author's musings on time, though obviously meant to be profound and to summon comparison to the greats, don't really offer much substance nor hang together very well. There were just a lot of reasons to put the book aside and not look back.

And yet...something kept pulling me back and so after skipping a big chunk of the text, I made it through the final 100 pages and found it surprisingly rewarding. Of course, what I ended up liking about the story may not reflect the author's intent and doesn't seem to be what any reviewer enjoyed about it.

Essentially the plot involves an architect, Ignacio Abel, who has fled his native Madrid in 1936, in search of his lover American lover, Judith Biely. It opens with him scanning faces in Penn Station, hoping to see her, and closes at the small liberal arts college where he's accepted a commission to design a library. In between, their love affair is told against the backdrop of Madrid's destruction in the Spanish Civil War. For Judith, Ignacio represents the Spain she wants to make a socialist paradise. For Ignacio, Judith is an avatar of liberal idealism. Ignacio has risen from bricklayer's son to respected professional and husband of a solidly bourgeois wife. But just as the forces that Judith represents politically destroy the city, the affair destroys Ignacio's family. Recriminations follow, the lovers part and are only uneasily reunited in the States.

The reward in the story lies in that reunion, when the two finally see each other almost clearly, though they seem unable to fully process what they see. Judith realizes that Ignacio is not younger and more liberal than his wife, but just as old, conservative and Catholic. It is not apparent whether she has come to turns with the fact that her lover, in reality, represents precisely the Spanish values she is trying to destroy.

Meanwhile, Ignacio had already witnessed in Madrid the reality that the "liberal" forces Judith wants to win are actually murderous and oppressive. Franco may be accepting assistance from Hitler and Mussolini to wage his war and doing so with fearsome brutality, but his Communist, Socialist and Anarchist foes are eagerly modelling themselves on Stalin. The Utopia that Judith would establish would be a catastrophe. They have both been seduced by a falsehood. In the end, the most sympathetic character in the book is Ignacio's boring, stolid, religious, middle-class wife.

Here, finally, the ruminations on time even pay off : "All his life thinking he belonged to the present and the future, and now beginning to grasp that he felt so out of place because his country was the past." Amen, brother.


Grade: (C)


See also:

General Literature
Antonio Molina Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Antonio Muñoz Molina | Official Webpage
    -WIKIPEDIA: Antonio Munoz Molina
    -INFO : Antonio Muñoz Molina (b. 1956) (kirjasto)
    -INFO: Antonio Munoz Molina (Spanish Culture)
    -INFO: Antonio Muñoz Molina (The Modern Novel)
-EXCERPT: Chapter One of Manuscript of Ashes by Antonio Munoz Molina
-ARTICLE: Jerusalem Prize ‘good enough for me,’ says Molina: Spanish writer rejects ‘clichés’ from pro-Palestinian activists who wanted him to boycott literary award, admires Israel’s fierce level of public debate (JESSICA STEINBERG February 11, 2013, Times of Israel)
-REVIEW: of In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (Colm Toibin, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Night of Time (Mare Arana, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Night of Time (Dmitri Nasrallah, Toronto Star)
    -REVIEW: of In her Absence by Antonio Muñoz Molina (The Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of In Her Absence (Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of In Her Absence (Nick Ancosta, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of In Her Absence (The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of (Brigitte Weeks, Washington Post)
-REVIEW: of A MANUSCRIPT OF ASHES By Antonio Muñoz Molina (Colin Fleming, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Manuscript of Ashes (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Manuscript of Ashes (Sarah Fay, Bookforum)
    -REVIEW: of Manuscript of Ashes (Tim Rutten, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Manuscript of Ashes (Adam Kirsch, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Manuscript of Ashes (Marc Tracy, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Sepharad by Antonio Munoz Molina (Michael Pye, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of Sepharad (Richard Eder, NY Times)

Book-related and General Links: