Lorraine Ryan, Memory and Spatiality in Post-Millennial Spanish Narrative

Lorraine Ryan, Memory and Spatiality in Post-Millennial Spanish Narrative (Farnham: Ashgate 2014) 248 pp. Hb, £95. ISBN: 9781472435705

During the Spanish civil war, the liberal faction of Spain failed to create a new republic and after the war the country collapsed into oppression. Spain passed through a period of recovery which emphasized memory and was characterized by a new definition of space. In this book, Lorraine Ryan seeks to analyze these two aspects of contemporary Spanish identity and to present a overview of what happened to the Republican side after losing the war. Ryan does an excellent job of exploring the approach contemporary writers have taken to Republicanism in order to reclaim a political position which had been silenced for many years.

Ryan argues that the inspiration for writers to portray the losing Republican side came from the Pinochet affair, notably the arrest of this Argentinian dictator. A consequence was that a movement of counter-memory was initiated to commemorate the victims in Argentina. With this in mind, Spanish writers as well as politicians have worked to show solidarity with the Republican side through making use of the case of Argentina. Thus, what Ryan portrays is the use of space in the memorializing of the Republicans, as employed by contemporary authors. The spaces in question involve both personal and social space, as well as the opposition between rural and urban space. In addition, Ryan suggests that space is intimately related to memory. Following this conceptual structure, her book is divided into seven chapters in each of which Ryan analyses the work of a different author.

In Chapter One, Ryan uses the writer Dulce Chacón and her work Cielos de barro to emphasize the rural space of Extremadura through contrast with the oppressive place of Los Negrales. While Chacón was educated in a conservative family, as an adult she became interested in the Republicans’ stories, showing that family beliefs do not necessarily determine the opinion of a member of that family. In this story, the land-owning class oppresses the poor by accusing Antonio of murder. However, high status does not guarantee continuity as Doña Victoria cannot bear children, whereas their servants can. Paradoxically, the children of these women do not have a better fate either. Ryan argues that the novel shows that the peasant class does not contribute or dominate their circumstances, but neither does the conservative class, something which puts both on the same level. The following chapter discusses Martina, la rosa numero trece by Ángeles López, from the well-known tragedy of the thirteen Republican women shot for belonging to a liberal organization. The story portrays Martina through the memories of her sister-in-law. Ryan highlights that Martina’s conversations are self-censored and that she is undervalued for being a Republican woman. Also, her space of action is rather limited as Republicans cannot mourn or commemorate their dead victims, obligating them to suppress any feelings of loss. In addition, her personal space is attacked when she is raped, and at the end when she is killed. Through this case, Ryan shows that the role of Republican women in Madrid and society’s treatment of them precluded a meaningful social role.

In Chapter Three, Ryan features Alberto Méndez’s short story collection “Los girasoles ciegos.” The stories are based on his feelings towards the conflict as Méndez combatted the dictatorship of Franco. Méndez uses the wardrobe in the Mazo’s family as a place of peace and security, but also as a criminalized refuge. The space of Madrid is consistently seen as expansive and difficult to control, although in the space of the barrio or neighborhood Lorenzo as a child enjoys freedom, a freedom his family does not enjoy, as far as freedom of speech goes. Republican women's participation in the city brought them into disrepute. Through analysis of the portrayal of these places, Ryan shows the difficulty of adaptation in Madrid for Republicans given the continuous tensions with the Nationalists. The author Emili Teixidor is used in the following chapter to portray the Republicans in a different light. According to Ryan, Teixidor’s Pan Negro recounts a story where Andrés’ spontaneity and ingenuity becomes distorted into subversive adulthood in postwar society. According to Ryan, Andrés denies his Republican origins to associate himself with the victors in order to acquire power and social status. Rural space is criticized for its poverty and vulnerability. Ryan shows how memory becomes distorted by the pressures of Andrés's need to survive and to find dignity by rejecting the spaces related to the liberal side.

For Ryan, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s La sombra del viento, the subject of Chapter Five, represents a link between the portrayal of the past and the assertion of Republican memory. This book is one of three novels linked by the story of El cementerio de los libros olvidados. The space of the cemetery is used as a place in the city where peace reigns, and a place where books are preserved. Ryan points out that based on interest in reading, places such as coffee shops are presented in the novel as intellectual places where Republicans could have discussions. She argues that Zafón’s view clearly reflects a polarization of Francoist violence and empathy for the Republican side.

Built largely on a contrast between the countryside space of Iruian, and the village place of Obaba, both set in northern Spain, Chapter Six focuses on El hijo del acordeonista by Bernardo Atxaga. Rural space is portrayed as masculine, while Obaba is shown as weak; an idea supported by the Francoist discourse which discriminated against rural space as a place of ignorance. However, the character of David feels nostalgia for the countryside and distances himself from the modernity of the village. In contrast to the other stories, David writes in Basque and from the unrelated historical setting of Stoneham Ranch, California, to articulate a global view which does not erase the local perspective. Ryan’s final chapter, on José María Marino’s novel La sima, is an elaborated analysis of the forgetting of the dead after the Spanish Civil war. The narrative is told from the perspective of the protagonist Félix when an exhumation of thirty Republicans takes place in his village. The confused protagonist experiences feelings of reconciliation and retribution as these people were killed by his grandfather. Ryan highlights that the Nationalist cause was ultimately a vindication for Felix’s grandfather. His grandfather had been raised poor, but married a rich woman supporting conservative ideals. Ryan explains that the exhumation becomes a place of escape to the past from the present for Félix in an attempt to support remembrance and express solidarity towards the victims.

Ryan concludes that the process of opening the past to discussion has been rather problematic in Spain because it has been polarized between political views inspiring conflicting memories. Nevertheless, Ryan is eager to respond to this dilemma by equating space and memory as a possible way to approach the dialogue. Overall, the book is an informative, tendentious, and penetrating analysis of Republican memory after the Civil war. While Ryan’s analysis is not informed by a scientific account of memory, her analysis is deep and establishes a useful ground for further discussion. More importantly, Ryan establishes the transformational character of literature as a starting point for further analysis.

Angela P. Pacheco, Purdue University

css.php