"A bold, stunning book...The reader is drawn in not because we want to find out what happened, but why it happened..."--NPR
A psychologically twisting novel about a politically-charged act of violence that echoes through a small Spanish town; a debut novel that the New York Times Book Review calls "a triumph."
It's 2004 in Muriga, a quiet town in Spain's northern Basque Country, a place with more secrets than inhabitants. Five years have passed since the kidnapping and murder of a young local politician-a family man and father-and the town's rhythms have almost returned to normal. But in the aftermath of the Atocha train bombings in Madrid, an act of terrorism that rocked a nation and a world, the townspeople want a reckoning of Muriga's own troubled past: Everyone knows who pulled the trigger five years ago, but is the young man now behind bars the only one to blame? All That Followed peels away the layers of a crime complicated by history, love, and betrayal. The accounts of three townspeople in particular-the councilman's beautiful young widow, the teenage radical now in jail for the crime, and an aging American teacher hiding a traumatic past of his own-hold the key to what really happened. And for these three, it's finally time to confront what they can find of the truth.
Inspired by a true story, All That Followed is a powerful, multifaceted novel about a nefarious kind of violence that can take hold when we least expect. Urgent, elegant, and gorgeously atmospheric, Urza's debut is a book for the world we live in now, and it marks the arrival of a brilliant new writer to watch.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
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All that Followed
By Gabriel Urza
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2015 Gabriel Urza
All rights reserved.
This morning the front page of the Diario Vasco — for once — shares the same headline as the other Spanish newspapers. Sabino Garamendi's newsstand is wallpapered with photographs of the Atocha train station in Madrid, each cover depicting train carriages that had burst from the inside as if they were overshaken cans of soda, the aluminum paneling peeled back, revealing their contents: strips of dark fabric, handfuls of foam cushioning, bits of bone, women's shoes, the pages of a child's notebook. It is the twelfth day of March 2004.
I slide money across the counter to Sabino and fold the Diario under my arm before crossing the street to the Boliña. Estefana is just inside the kitchen at the end of the bar, a deep-burgundy skirt beneath her stained white apron, and the briny smell of anchovies cooking in a heavy frying pan fills the room. I knock on the wooden bar; when she looks up I give a small wave to let her know that I have arrived and am ready for coffee, and then I return to the patio outside the bar.
On television last night it was reported by every national news station that although Prime Minister Aznar, as well as the king himself, had refused to directly implicate the group responsible for the attacks, all available evidence pointed to the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, the ETA. And though the residents of Muriga collectively denied this suggestion, spat on the sawdust-covered floors of the bars each time a news anchor used the word "separatist," there was also an underlying air of shared guilt, of collusion in the bombings that had left, as of last night, 191 victims dead. People lingered quietly in the bars, whole families with their children sitting at long, stout oak tables around half-empty bottles of red wine, Coke cans filled with cigarette filters, uneaten plates of potato omelet or grilled prawns. I had lingered a bit.
The Fernandez de Larrea family sent their youngest over to invite me, the old American, to a table crowded with small plates of food, and when the parents of the youngest children began to filter out I joined the old men lined up against the wooden bar. It's in these moments of acute community that the delusions I live by — that I am a part of this town, that I have earned my way into the life of Muriga and its people — are quickly and easily unraveled.
By eleven last night, early for Muriga, most of the bars in the old part had emptied. Santi Etxeberria refused my offer of a second glass of patxaran, but I agreed when he asked if I'd like to join him on the walk up the Ubera River. The evenings were still cool, and a fine mist began before we had reached the cathedral.
"Txirimiri," Santi said forlornly. It's a word used to describe a type of rain that they say exists only here in the foothills of the Pyrenees. A rain so fine that an umbrella is useless against it, wisps of water blowing under the umbrella's cuff to cling to the rough whiskers of your cheeks at the end of the day. It's a poetic word, one of the first words of Basque I learned, and hearing it never ceases to conjure the image of the woman who explained its meaning my first week in Muriga, more than fifty years ago.
The woman and I had been leaning against the stone wall of San Telmo Cathedral — the same cathedral that Santi and I now passed.
"Txi ... rri ... mi ... rri," she had said. The knees of my slacks darkened from the rain as she deconstructed the word, laying out its component parts for me to examine. "Txi ... rri ... mi ... rri. Now you."
It had felt small and thin in my clumsy American mouth. I was accustomed to deep, round sounds, not these diminutive tsk's against the front teeth. I'd expected her to laugh, but instead she took my hand up in hers. Her fingers were cold and thin and they vibrated lightly around mine.
"Txirimiri," she repeated slowly, holding my palm up to her mouth so that I could feel how little air came out. She leaned off the wall of the cathedral, closer to me so that now our knees were touching, and she said again the word, that wonderful word. "Tsk ... tsk ... txirimiri."
* * *
"PRIMARY INVESTIGATION POINTS TO ETA," the front page now announces as I unfold my paper against a patio table at the Boliña. It's still early spring, and it's unusual to be able to enjoy a morning coffee outside like this. And yet the last two days have brought a warm current up from the Canary Islands that has pushed back against the arctic current. I roll up the sleeves of my sweater, wipe my hands over constellations of sun spots spread across my pale forearms.
I read the first few lines of the cover article, then turn to the sports section on the second-to-last page of the paper before placing it back down on the table. What can such an article convey, really? How many words are needed to announce an inexplicably horrible thing, to tell us that there will be no recovery from this? But Muriga has experience with these acts that erode the soul of a people.
The bombing of Atocha, inevitably, has torn the stitches from a wound nearly six years healed, and this morning's stillness is evidence of the effort required to convince ourselves that our lives are still intact after the death of José Antonio Torres. I watch Mariana, his widow, crossing Zabaleta holding their daughter, Elena, by the wrist. The girl is now eight years old, nearly nine. She has her mother's features but the large, startlingly blue eyes of José Antonio. Behind her, Martín mops the walk in front of his small grocery at the corner of Atxiaga and Zabaleta, stopping after every few passes to pull from a cigarette pinched between two fingers. A pair of boys I recognize from Colegio San Jorge speed along Calle Zabaleta on their motor scooter, their light-blue oxfords untucked, flicking behind them. They are seventeen or eighteen, the same age Iker was the year that he was arrested for José Antonio's abduction and murder.
As Mariana approaches, I glance back into the bar to where Estefana shuffles across the worn stone floor, the cup of espresso and milk in her hand resting on a thin brown saucer. She brings me this same cup of coffee nearly every morning, and yet today I am surprised by the sight of her — this sturdy, strong woman. For the first time, I notice the ribbons of white that have wound their way through the thick black brambles of her hair. I hear the scrape of her right shoe, which doesn't rise quite as high as the left, as it drags across the stone. She's become an old woman, I think, and as if on cue, the dragging right foot catches momentarily on the threshold of the door, and the white cup slides from the saucer with a scraping sound, a sound not unlike the diminutive first syllable of txirimiri. There is silence, and then the cup explodes in a crest of ceramic shards and deep-brown coffee.
Estefana curses loudly, waves the back of her hand dismissively at the nearly unbroken sky above her, and turns back to the bar to begin another coffee. Mariana and Elena are just at the end of the block now, and both mother and daughter turn in my direction at the sound of the shattering cup. There is a moment, a fraction of a second, in which recognition outweighs history — when Mariana sees only an old friend, before anger and disgust take over and she pulls the girl in the other direction, back across Zabaleta.
When they've turned the corner, out of sight, I watch Estefana moving busily about the coffee machine. I study the splinters of enamel and the spreading puddle of coffee as it grows bigger on the patio's white tile. My mind drifts to the exploding trains at Atocha, and I begin to imagine time slowing to a pause, the black rush of smoke stopping its ascent from the train platform, then churning slowly backward. I imagine the heat of the explosion, the women's shoes, the bits of dark fabric, all flying back into the hull of the carriage, the peeled strips of aluminum being folded back around its passengers, ironed smooth again.
I allow time to continue flowing in reverse, the world to continue this process of reconstruction. The morning's unseasonably warm winds begin to reverse, to flow back toward the Canary Islands; the white streaks in Estefana's black mane retreat back into her scalp. Elena's spring jacket becomes unstitched, the small pieces of cloth are mended back into long bolts of fabric. The fabric is reconstituted into a row of cotton plants, and then into a handful of shrinking seeds, until finally the seeds are distilled into only sunlight.
I allow myself more. I imagine a bullet spinning back into the rifled barrel of a stolen pistol, a blue Peugeot lifting from an ocean cliffside back onto a ribbon of asphalt. I imagine the world undone back to a spring day six years in the past, when I had not yet been set upon by the ghost of José Antonio Torres.CHAPTER 2
When I was a girl, my grandmother told us the story of María de Aulesti, a witch tried in Muriga during the Inquisition in 1610. It's a ghost story that old women use to remind kids to go to mass on Sundays or to say the Lord's Prayer before they climb under the covers at night, a story that my own daughter, Elena, learned not from me or from her grandmother as she should have but instead from Celia Presona's daughter, who told her at school.
The way my grandmother would tell it, Aulesti, who everyone called La Cerda — the hog — was born into a family that had secretly practiced sorcery for generations. She was the unmarried daughter of a charcoal burner and was only twenty-three when the king's inquisitor, Albert de Gálvez Cortázar, brought the formal charge of witchcraft against her. He made several allegations: that La Cerda had caused damage to a farmer's crops, that she had murdered infants in their sleep by sucking the breath from their lungs, that she could take the shape of dogs and cats and pigs. My grandmother would pinch her gold pendant of the Virgin each time she told my cousins and me about the akelarres — the witches' gatherings — where La Cerda brought young girls to feast on roasted bodies dug up from the churchyard near where the football fields are now. She described the girls' nightly orgies with the Devil and La Cerda, consummated in a sulfurous yellow firelight.
When La Cerda had been tried and sentenced by de Gálvez she was given a last opportunity to confess and save her life, but she refused. At dawn, on the Thursday before the start of the Holy Week, the townspeople pulled La Cerda from her cell in the basement of the church. With de Gálvez presiding, they burned her to death in her father's charcoal ovens along the river. According to the story that the old women in Muriga tell, as they forced her into the small iron chamber of the furnace La Cerda began to vomit a black-and-green, evil-smelling liquid. This smell, this excretion finally offered proof to the town that she was, in fact, in league with the Devil. I always remember that phrase. Evil-smelling. What did evil smell like? I wondered.
* * *
MY FRIENDS and I grew up in Muriga with the ghost of La Cerda, who was said to come to children who were bad Christians or didn't obey their parents. And it worked for a while. Each time I ignored my prayers before bed, I would imagine La Cerda's smell, the smell of evil that her ghost carried with her, then rush out from under the covers to mouth the "Our Father." But as I grew older, I began to skip prayers. I smoked cigarettes and let boys put their hands under my clothes. I did these things and waited for La Cerda, but she never came.
It wasn't until my first year at the university in Bilbao, in a class on Basque anthropology, that I learned the real story of La Cerda. The professor, a feminist scholar from the University of Deusto, projected images of old Church documents onto a screen. The documents were frayed at the edges, written in an old, slanted script. One of the charges made against María de Aulesti was that she had tricked a local priest into her bedroom. The priest testified that she had poured a yellow powder down his throat while he slept, that the Devil had led him into her bedroom with a resin torch, where he was discovered by La Cerda's father in the middle of the night. The professor pointed out that the documents we were reading had been recorded several years after La Cerda's death. They were excerpts from an old court transcript, showing that the same priest who had accused the young woman of witchcraft had later made similar charges against two other girls in nearby villages. The final image was of an order bearing the seal of the archbishop, which excommunicated the priest in 1612 for "acts against the Church."
The professor had used the story of La Cerda to illustrate her own point about the subordinate position of women relative to the Church, but I'd always thought that it said something more. I wasn't interested in de Gálvez — had the professor really expected better from the Church? Instead, I became preoccupied with the execution itself. It was the townspeople that had dragged La Cerda from the cell in the basement of the church, I kept thinking. The people among whom she had grown up, who had known her her entire life. I imagined those familiar hands tearing at her clothes, scratching her skin, pulling at her hair. How bizarre, I thought, that she must have known the women who locked the iron door, the man who set flame to the wood.
"Sometimes I feel like a new version of La Cerda," I told my mother, a couple years after José Antonio's death.
"Why would you say something like that?" she asked, setting her glass abruptly down on the kitchen counter.
"Don't act as if you don't see it," I said. "The way conversation stops when we go to the Boliña, how people look at me at the Eroski when I'm buying milk and eggs with Elena. Even after two years."
"You can't think of it that way, my love," she said, scratching the back of my neck lightly. "Nobody thinks of you as La Cerda."
But still, once Elena had reminded me of the story I couldn't shake it. I remembered all the old tricks my grandmother had used to repel ghosts from her old baserri at the edge of town, up against the ash forest below the fortress at San Jorge. An ox tooth placed on either side of a doorway. Ashes made from fingernail clippings burned with sage and saffron, smudged around any window facing north and east.
"What is this?" Elena asked after school last week, holding up the ox tooth that I'd bought at a bazaar in Bermeo the week before.
"It's nothing," I said, taking the bleached white tooth from her hand.
"Why is it here?" she asked.
"It was your father's," I lied. "It's a good luck charm. I like to be reminded of him whenever we come home."
She nodded, watching me curiously.
I wonder how much she knows. If Celia Presona's daughter has told her the story of La Cerda, has she also told Elena the story of her own mother? Of her father, killed six years earlier?
I put the jagged white tooth back at the foot of the apartment door, then smoothed back Elena's hair behind her ear.
"Just leave it alone, love."CHAPTER 3
The letters began in early February.
I hope you don't mind, the Councilman's wife said at the close of the first letter. My daughter started school today, and the apartment suddenly feels empty.
"She's trying to punish you," my cell mate Andreas warned. He was working on a drawing for his sister, a view of the courtyard from the Salto del Negro's cafeteria. "She wants you to know that you've taken everything from her. She wants you not only to rot your life away in here but to feel guilty while you do it."
"No," I said. "I think I believe her."
"Fuck that," Andreas said, blowing carefully at an area of the paper that he'd finished shading.
* * *
A FEW LETTERS LATER, she asked if the Councilman had begged for his life. If he knew he was going to die or if he thought, up until the very end, that he might escape from all of it.
It's not like that, I had written back. It wasn't either one, really.
It has to be one or the other, she said in the next letter, which arrived the day of the explosions in Madrid. You're just not saying.
Excerpted from All that Followed by Gabriel Urza. Copyright © 2015 Gabriel Urza. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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