Books Burn Badly

Books Burn Badly

by Manuel Rivas
     
 

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A masterpiece of unusual beauty by one of Europe's greatest living writers—a brilliant evocation of the Spanish Civil War
 On August 19, 1936 Hercules the boxer stands on the quayside at Coruña and watches Fascist soldiers piling up books and setting them alight. With this moment a young, carefree group of friends are

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Overview

A masterpiece of unusual beauty by one of Europe's greatest living writers—a brilliant evocation of the Spanish Civil War
 On August 19, 1936 Hercules the boxer stands on the quayside at Coruña and watches Fascist soldiers piling up books and setting them alight. With this moment a young, carefree group of friends are transformed into a broken generation. Out of this incident during the early months of Spain's tragic civil war, Manuel Rivas weaves a colorful tapestry of stories and unforgettable characters to create a panorama of 20th-century Spanish history—for it is not only the lives of Hercules the boxer and his friends that are tainted by the unending conflict, but also those of a young washerwoman who sees souls in the clouded river water and the stammering son of a judge who uncovers his father's hidden library. As the singed pages fly away on the breeze, their stories live on in the minds of their readers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“Even when things fall quiet, there are two classes of silence. A friendly silence that keeps us company, where words can be at leisure, and another silence. One that frightens.” Silence lies at the heart of the latest novel from Galician journalist Rivas (The Carpenter’s Pencil). In 1936, Franco’s Falangists burned books in Coruña’s María Pita Square and at the docks that supplied the Galician city’s livelihood of fish, trade, and shipping. Rivas’s novel is teeming with voices—the unbeatable boxer who worked as a plumber, Arturo da Silva; his “sentimental sparring partner,” Vicente Curtis, burdened with the nickname “Hercules son of a whore” since he was a boy; the impossibly sweet voiced tango singer, Luís Terranova; Olinda, the quick-fingered matchstick maker–turned–saboteur–turned–washerwoman. Each narrative alone might have furnished a novel. The hole burnt into the city’s intellectual center smolders and spreads under Franco for decades, devouring the talent, sanity, memory, morality, and lives of an entire generation. Francisco Crecente, known as “Polka,” a gardener and sometime bagpipe player, is forced to rake and bury the charred books. He’s imprisoned, sent to a labor camp, and becomes a gravedigger. The soldiers who set the books ablaze ascend to power to become an unscrupulous censor, a corrupt inspector, and a fanatical judge. Children grow up stuttering (afraid to speak) or lazy eyed (refusing to see). They finger the charred edges of the books their parents salvaged and hid, searching for answers to unanswerable questions, helpless to recover either individual stories or the collective history lost to the flames. Making sense of the lively crowd of characters and not strictly linear structure can be as confusing as sorting unbound half-burned pages, but attentive readers will be rewarded by a rare find: an epic and resoundingly lyrical refutation of totalitarianism and cruelty. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"It's time for reviewers and sundry pundits to quit the flattering comparisons with Lorca, Joyce and Garcia Marquez. Manuel Rivas reads like no-one else on the planet . . . one of those novels to lavish on friends. . . . Manuel Rivas' sweeping novel, translated into English for the first time, is an undoubted classic."  —Scotsman

"A novelistic tour-de-force . . . hauntingly poetic use of language and light touch . . . Rivas never loses faith in the human ability to overcome the bleakest of situations."  —Irish Times

"An important storyteller . . . He is sensitive and has an incredible ear, which, in his fiction, is allied to great ingenuity."  —John Berger, author, Ways of Seeing, on The Carpenter's Pencil

"A beautiful novel, filled with tenderness and humanity."  —Arturo Perez-Reverte, author, The Club Dumas, on The Carpenter's Pencil

"an epic and resoundingly lyrical refutation of totalitarianism and cruelty."—Publishers Weekly

"As vivid as Orhan Pamuk, as learned as Alvaro Mutis, Rivas writes magnificently, and Dunne’s translation will take one’s breath away on nearly every page."—Booklist

Library Journal
Award-winning Galician author Rivas (Vermeer's Milkmaid and Other Stories) illuminates the horrors and aftermath of the Spanish civil war via a 1936 book burning in Coruña's Maria Pita Square by Franco's Falangists that destroys the city's intellectual life for a generation. His is a tapestry of fragmentary glimpses into the lives of the book burners—Olinda the laundress; Vicente Curtis, aka Hercules "Whoreson"; tango singer Luís Terranova; bagpipe-player Francisco Crecente, aka Polka, who is forced to rake up and bury the charred remains of the books; and a future judge who pokes around the flaming tomes trying to rescue one he knows is worth money. Even the despised Francisco Franco weighs in. Franco was a Galician himself, born into a naval family but too short to join the navy; Rivas notes how, once Franco attained power, his favorite outfit was the full-dress uniform of a naval officer. VERDICT Masterfully translated by Dunne, this book, with its various narrative voices and chronological fluctuation, is a challenge that rewards the reader's perseverance with a remarkably satisfying resolution.—Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780099520337
Publisher:
Random House UK
Publication date:
10/01/2011
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
550
Sales rank:
778,943
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.50(d)

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Meet the Author


Manuel Rivas writes in the Galician language of north-west Spain. A founding member of Greenpeace Spain, he is a major figure in Spanish literature, known for his journalism, as well as for his prize-winning short stories and novels, which include the internationally acclaimed The Carpenter's Pencil. His works have been translated into 20 languages.

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