The writer Bernardo Atxaga incorporates a “very black humor” to the stories told “from beyond” in his new book
The end of ETA was “extraordinarily liberating” also in literature for Bernardo Atxaga (Asteasu, Guipúzcoa, 70 years old). The Basque writer was a pioneer in addressing the situation generated by violence in Euskadi in several novels. With ETA deactivated, he felt that he could travel other narrative paths. His work took a turn and explored a more poetic and sarcastic vein whose latest installment is ‘From the other side’ (Alfaguara). There are four stories about life and death told “from beyond” and with black humor. “Very black”, specifies Atxaga. Narrated by ghosts, reptiles, birds or rodents, they are also a celebration of nature.
«While the problem of ETA and all the political violence in the Basque Country was on the table, I felt compelled to write about it. I published three novels on the subject, the first 25 years ago”, explains Atxaga, evoking ‘El hombre solo’ (1994), ‘Esos cielos’ (1996) and ‘El son del accordionista’ (2003). «Sometimes the reality, as it happens now with Ukraine, is an avalanche and you cannot avoid it; if one escapes from it, one is not a writer », he argues. “But once the problem goes away, I feel liberated. I don’t have to write any more about it”, says a writer who behaved “in reverse of what has happened in general”. “While ETA was on the table, people didn’t write, and when it’s over, they started writing,” he maintains.
«I am more comfortable narrating from the beyond than from the here. I have never written so calm, calm and fun”, says the winner of the National Prize for Letters in 2019. After ‘Casas y tumbas’, I wanted to explore “freer” forms of writing, delve into the limits of fiction and laugh at most. «The writer must face the inherited forms that are always extremely corseted if he wants to contribute some oxygen», he posits.
And Atxaga does it by talking about two brothers who face collective evil together; with a man who relives the death of his friend’s son in the light of LSD; with two spectral speakers who exalt the crowd with a delirious talk about life and death in the Obaba-Ugarte cemetery, or with the rant of an owl that will be crucial to solve several crimes. There are four unpublished stories in Spanish, since the two that were published in Basque in 1985 and 1995 he has now rewritten.
“Have fun and have fun”
In full maturity, after almost half a century of literary career, Atxaga feels “more loose” and with more desire to have fun and amuse himself with his narrative games. “Going back to 800,000 years ago the point of view frees me from the calendar and normal spaces.” Narrating from beyond the grave and giving voice to animals and ghosts gives you absolute freedom. After 50 years I feel freer, looser and more fun than ever », he insists.
«Sometimes reality is an inescapable avalanche, as happens with Ukraine, but if you escape from it you are not a writer»
For this liberated Atxaga, the humor that he previously reserved for his children’s stories is increasingly important. «It has always accompanied me. I think it’s genetic and now I let it flow », he assures. “I wouldn’t say I’ve conquered humor, but it has emerged like uncorking a bottle of champagne,” he explains. «Humour downplays importance and seriousness of things, it is oxygen. It takes a ‘dead’ weight off the drama of life, if the macabre joke may be permitted.”
He also feels free creating unusual characters, “taking that leap above reality that fiction allows you.” «In a representation of ‘Ubú rey’, by Alfred Jarry, Ubú was an artifact, a metallic construction; I understood that anything can be a character », he confesses. “A snake, a dog, a mouse or a stone can be characters as interesting as a mature man or a rich lady,” claims Atxaga.
Life and death
Those in these stories move between life and death, “which are two sides of the same thing.” «One of the speakers at the Obaba cemetery, the blackest text I have written in my life, defends the wonders of death. He assures that life destroys love and that death exalts it and makes it grow », he explains. “Life encompasses death and allows humor and poetry.”
The four stories of ‘From the other side’ evoke classic fables, but Atxaga does not want to offer a moral. «There is always a moral position, it is inevitable, but I have not the slightest desire to give moral lessons. I want to open a poetic space for black humor », he says. An owl is the protagonist of ‘A Crime Movie’, the latest story in which a serial killer breaks into a ranch in Nevada, a situation that serves the author of ‘Obabakoak’ to reflect on violence, the death penalty , good and evil.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.