Sunday, December 10

Isaac Rosa: «The social elevator has been broken for a long time and nobody fixes it»

The Sevillian writer Isaac Rosa. / Ivan Gimenez

– «There are no bunkers against fear», says the author of ‘Safe place’, a picaresque novel of today that explores the fears that grip us since the turn of the century

Michael Lorenci

“The social elevator is broken. It’s been like this for a long time and I’m afraid there’s no one to fix it.” Isaac Rosa (Seville, 1974), the author of ‘Safe Place’ (Seix Barral), the novel with which he won the Biblioteca Breve Prize and to which the capricious evolution of history has endowed with an unusual topicality, assures it ironically and smilingly . With a nuclear mushroom on its cover, it stars Segismundo García, the third member of a generation of rogues who dreams, unsuccessfully, of climbing the social ladder and sells cheap bunkers. They are the safe places to which the title alludes, and that the seller places taking advantage of the panic in the face of a foreseeable atomic catastrophe.

«When I wrote it I did not think about an escalation of nuclear tension like the one we are experiencing. I do not intend to sell novels because of the war in Ukraine,” says Isaac Rosa, who did have “very present” other fears unleashed by psychoses in the face of a global blackout, the ravages of the pandemic or the effects of the chilling Filomena, the cold wave ice that froze half of Spain in January 2021.

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«For the fears that we have and that grip us there is no possible refuge. Safe places, whether they are bunkers or houses with security alarms, respond to other insecurities, but not to those that have been with us for several decades and that create existential insecurity”, says Rosa. She speaks of a “universal and growing” fear that germinated at the end of the 20th century, “when neoliberalism dismantled the elements of society that gave us security.” «That insecurity provokes a feeling of vulnerability and distrust towards the future that are at the heart of the novel. It is the fear that makes us buy any political promise. And it’s sobering what we’re willing to do for that fear,” she says.

«Class resentment is a powerful literary engine, especially when inequality and meritocracy are a mirage»

Rosa plays in her fiction with three generations of a family of 21st century rogues who take advantage of the fear and cracks in the system for their own benefit, determined to thrive and take that social elevator that seems eternally broken. «Instead of going up in the social elevator, it seems that the protagonists have fallen through the hole; that the culture of effort and merit has come to nothing », she states.

«I didn’t write it with the picaresque genre in mind, but it is true that the three protagonists participate in the picaresque tradition. They are hustlers, they are obsessed with social promotion and they crash again and again. They are antiheroes, rogues, yes. Rogues and rascals who want to get to the top and constantly fail, “says its creator. “If they succeeded, they would be admired entrepreneurs who would teach in business schools and write self-help books and how I made my first million,” he quips.

The novel is also a satire on “class resentment”, which in the writer’s opinion “is a very powerful narrative engine”. «We are seeing how inequality increases exponentially, how meritocracy and the culture of effort are mirages, a utopia. How good jobs are found the same way as always. That family origin, heritage and position increasingly mark more. And that feeds that resentment of the protagonists, who feel the resentment of those who have looked upstairs and have been dropped.


Bunkers were born for the rich, but the Garcías believe that, as happened with flights, travel, technology or gastronomy, “it is time to offer them to the poor and make a fortune.” Hence, the family of funny entrepreneurs see in the design and construction of ‘low cost’ shelters the way to rise in social class.

«Fear makes us buy any political promise, and makes us think about what we are willing to do»

The bunker seller tries to trick his potential buyers, the unsuspecting citizens who open the door of their homes, by naming the most watched series of the moment, which deals with a nuclear accident that has devastated the Earth. While he tries to develop his business, he searches for a treasure that his father, already almost insane, had hidden to protect himself from future misfortunes.

Segismundo García are called the grandfather, the son and the grandson of this hilarious saga that for twenty-four hours its creator shakes before the reader between laughter, anguish, incomprehension or tenderness. And it is that ‘Safe place’ is a circadian novel, which is what those that take place in a single day are called. “I really like those that take place in 24 hours, in which we accompany the protagonist on a journey that is usually urban and interior, like Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, whose centenary we celebrate and is the paradigm of the genre”, explains Rose. When she started writing it she had John Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’ in mind. “His character of him wants to go home through the world from pool to pool, and my Garcia dreams of doing the same, from bunker to bunker, from shelter to shelter,” she explains.

«The characters apply the ‘every man for himself’, but I don’t think that happens in reality. In the pandemic we saw everything, but many people who dedicated themselves to helping others. We do not come out of catastrophes better, but the best of many people comes out and that makes it more surmountable », he assures.

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