Life passes, the memory remains

Antonio Muñoz Molina (Úbeda, Jaén, 1956) returns to fiction after the beautiful exercise in personal and collective memory written in times of pandemic, Volver a donde.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 September 2023 Friday 10:29
7 Reads
Life passes, the memory remains

Antonio Muñoz Molina (Úbeda, Jaén, 1956) returns to fiction after the beautiful exercise in personal and collective memory written in times of pandemic, Volver a donde. He does so with a novel that also has a lot to do with memory, what one treasures consciously or unconsciously throughout the years and the recent history of Spain (“Olvido had a texture as variable and random as the memory"). I will not see you die – a title that reproduces a verse that the Uruguayan poet Idea Vilariño wrote to Juan Carlos Onetti – tells of a first love from youth and its survival over time.

Gabriel Aristu and Adriana Zuber lived in the gray post-war Madrid and had known each other since adolescence, they studied together. In 1967 their paths diverged and they built a life different from the one they dreamed of: he, an economist, went to work in the international banking sector in California and started a family with Constance; She stayed in Madrid, got married, divorced, had a daughter and got ahead with translation work and teaching music – a passion shared with Aristu, who aspired to dedicate herself to the cello. Thus “the distances that can separate human lives” were forged in countries that were then very different worlds.

We know about that youthful love, its circumstances and particularities from the torrential text that occupies the first seventy pages of this book and that begins with the couple's reunion fifty years later. It is a very long sentence without any point that is already a story in itself and where the author demonstrates a narrative solvency only reserved for teachers.

The book manages to condense a lot – the political and social context of decades, what was experienced in those years, also what was felt and dreamed – and it does so by interspersing past, recent and present time, as the human mind sometimes does. Writing craft.

In the second chapter, the voice of the story is provided by Julio Máiquez, a scholar and professor specialized in Spanish baroque art, a character wounded by the trauma of an accident in his youth and by an abrupt separation. He will end up in the United States where he will meet Aristu. Both will establish a distant and confident relationship at the same time. Máiquez acts as a link between the different pieces of this story but above all it will give rise to the expression of what it means to live on both sides of the ocean, an experience that the writer from Jaén knows first-hand (“floating effortlessly in a double foreignness ").

The American experience is rich in details – the correct pronunciation of Potomac, the thermal fluctuations, the unusual nature of going on foot… – the text describes the impressions of those who settle in the United States and have to adapt to the dimensions, language, landscapes. , customs and social codes of the country ("The impact of the change of scale").

The reunion finally arrives between Aristu and Zuber, now in their seventies. The looks, the skin, the words you will find are old acquaintances. This scene will take place in Adriana's house in the Salamanca neighborhood, which the reader already knows, with the background noise of the street and the light that filters through the curtains. We are in a bubble that contains all of our past lives.

There is a parallel between this episode and the conversation between the old friends in The Last Meeting of Sandor Marai with the presence also of a witness – here, Fanny, the caretaker. The resolution of this moment of climax brings us a surprising outcome, which is far from what was foreseeable.

Culture, of course, appears in these pages through images such as that of Pau Casals interpreting Bach in espadrilles in Prades, that of Federico García Lorca, Gerardo Diego or Igor Stravisnki. Aristu's father had cultivated his company in his determined commitment to education. As it is also in the volumes of Proust or Montaigne in the protagonist's bookstore in the house on the banks of the Hudson in the company of his cello.

In this short and intense novel, the author of Winter in Lisbon captures the speed at which life passes, the dilemmas and decisions made, the consistency of memories, the elaboration of dreams and the unavoidable conditions of the burdens assumed. He also raises the questions of old age and illness. Muñoz Molina does not disappoint, his is a captivating writing that forces the reader to dive into the pages, to appropriate them in a certain way – who doesn't feel at some point that they are talking about something personal? The human soul has someone who writes to it.

Antonio Muñoz Molina I will not see you die

Six Barral. 240 pages, 19.90 euros