The suburbs of Barcelona, 40s of the turbulent Spain. Elsewhere in Europe, the World War II is affecting the people. Hiroshima is bombed. Its the civil war or the defeat of the civil organisations against the regime of Franco. David Batra's father, an alcoholic and works for the resistance organisations is a political fugitive and is on the run. There is no information about him for last 6 months. His mother, who used to work as a school teacher (lost her job during the war and for being the wife of a revolutionary), is pregnant with his younger brother and is in constant trouble both medically and physically. Young David, 14 yrs , is out of school and spends his time with friend Paulino, son of a barber who is molested both physically and sexually by his traffic policeman uncle, collecting lizard's tails, to be used as a medicinal cure for Paulino's piles and watching matinee movies of Hollywood Western.
Comes the Inspection Galvan , into the scene investigating the disappearance of his father. He keeps a close vigil of the mother hoping to get some clue on the whereabout of David's father. As Inspector continue keep trail of the lady, David, now in his adolescence takes up the responsibility of protecting his mother from the advancing policeman. The close surveillance move way to regular visits to their villa, as the widowed policeman, is infatuated with the read haired ,beautiful mother, resulting in stand off between the son and the suitor. The frequency of the visit increased so is the duration, not only helping the lady in distress, but also supplying the essential provision. He continue his investigation, camouflaged under the pretext of help, to the dismay of young David.
David, carry the images of his injured father escaping through the gully, with a slit buttock, leaving blood trails on his way. It is this image that stays with him through out the narrative, even as he converse with the man missing in his dreams. The narration of real and surreal events takes some interesting direction here. David continue to have hallucinations ( he complains of hearing various sounds in his ear , resulting in listening to various voices), and continue his conversations with his father ( who disappeared 6 months ago) , to the poster hero of his room ( a RAF fighter pilot who died in action), the dead dog , his elder brothre who died long ago and his younger brother ( still in foetus inside his mother).
The fight for one-upmanship continue between David and the Inspector, with the Inspector manages to get rid off the dog Crispi, that David fosters, on account of aging and ill-ness. David seek his revenge by stealing his 'Dupont' lighter and trying to malign his image with his mother. Inspector also manages to distance Paulino from David, putting him up in the Juvenile Home, for his alleged shooting of his uncle, who continue to abuse him. Mother delivering an underdeveloped baby, dies in the event, leaving David and his brother in the custody of her sister.
To me, the narrative style that makes this book different from others. Despite the constant change of voices from David, his mother and the inspector the whole lot of conversation that David develop within himself with various living and non-living people is fabulous. The fine line between realism and surrealism is very minute and crafted brilliantly. The story is fairly simple and straightforward of an adolescent growing up , but it is these devices that deployed within the schemes make it interesting. This keep one guessing on what is actually happened and what is developed by the boy in his own mind. Very lyrical, very engaging and often symbolic ( severing of lizards tails, the old dog as watch guard being killed, the speaking foetus) writing. Fascinating work.
This Catalan writer ( writes in Spanish), won the Cervantes Prize ( called Spanish Nobel) in 2008, is not as widely read in English. I couldn't find many references of this book in the web. Nick Castor, who translated this book says "Marsé was under-read in English. He was fashionable in the 70s when he was translated quite a bit … but then he fell out of favour in translation,"
PS : The only complaint I have is the font size. One need a magnifier to read these pages , printed in font size < 1.--------------------------------------------------
Lizard Tails ( 1988)
Juan Marse ( translated from Spanish by Nick Caistor 2003)
World Without Borders