Thursday, May 5, 2011

"The Wrong Blood," by Manuel de Lope

Manuel de Lope's The Wrong Blood is tough to review without giving up the ghost, literally.

It is the story of three people bound by a series of shared spawned by the Fascists deathly advance through the Basque Country during the Spanish Civil War.

Situated for a few passages at the front, the novel mostly broods in the enclosed worlds of two houses on the coast: "Los Sauces" and "Las Cruces."

In one of them live two victims of the conflict, in the other a lame doctor, whose affliction allows him to escape the generalized carnage, yet still be affected by its perversions

The young lawyer Goitia, looking for a place to study, returns to his childhood home at "Las Cruces" whic his deceased mother has left to her life-long house servant, Maria Antonia.

The biggest secret is revealed to the reader at the three-quarter mark, though not necessarily to the young lawyer.

But his rare visit, coupled with the advancing age of the doctor and the house-servant, provide a last chance to rewrite a small history, and the tension to keep from, or unleash upon him the truths they know, form the crux of the conflict.

"Between them," De Lope notes, "the doctor and the old woman could awaken the inexistent memory of young Goitia, assuming that young Goitia had any interest in the stories the old woman and the doctor could tell him."

The path toward that resolution is dominated by an unnamed narrator with no dog in the fight being covered. The action and exchanges between principal characters are employed to sparing effect.

Most of the narrative progress is unspoken, but latent in the air each character is sharing; air rife with narrator's presentiments and ornate musings.

"The Wrong Blood," is mostly back-story, the young man's arrival provoking "the powerful flood of memories" that had "overflowed the sluice gates."

It is a running commentary on what the trio have endured, what they are thinking at any given moment in the history; a history not presented chronologically, rather leapfrogging back and forth along the line of time.

The author's focus is trained mostly on ambience, on environment, on the oppressive realities that precede each character's birth. There are not very many choices available to these people, and still less offering a dignified path.

The liner notes for this Other Press addition quote Gabriel Garcia Marquez deeming De Lope's work, "a celebration of our language."

Since that language is Spanish, the consumer of the English-language effort must take the master at his word. Or at least the word of translator John Cullen who teases a wide vocabulary, a rich thicket of words, and somber palette out of whatever De Lope intended.

In the opening passages, the author depicts the roses of 1936 to be "plump as wet nurses breast."

Later, in a passage more characteristic of, than exception to, "The Wrong Blood, De Lope writes that, "The curtains of rain in the distant, dull-gray clouds bursting over the sea filled her with nostalgia, because, for her, the weeping of the heavens was the ultimate poetical sensation, and nothing compared with the lyrical emotions of abandonment and dispossession that the rain promised.'

In this fashion does the omnipresent narrator mostly hold forth on details and objects surrounding, giving them prior lives, symbolic charges; casting them as witnesses to both a tragedy and a forced permutation in an otherwise natural order by class and the war's outcome.

These can be historical details, the product of fine research, such as the "strange straw wraps used in those days to cover champagne bottles with a kind of cape or hood that protected the glass," or much broader and social in aspect.

Describing how the ill-fated Captain Herraiz and his bride Isabel made it work, the writer observes, "It was said that certain in those years were happy, cautious, and dissolute, and those terms included everything that a judicious and seductive mixture of good breeding and carnality entailed."

If this novel is back-story, it is also a tale of the rearguard, of noncombatants flailing about in a great and sudden disruption. Del Lope conjures it as a place no less harrowing than the front.

For more than power and money, the meaning of each being upended by the times, it is the war which forces the hope-killing obligation to compromise one highest aspirations.

The doctor, by way of example, settles for "the peace of the weak and the just, and it granted him the tranquility of opening the gate and limping back to his house to pour himself of cognac. There was no sadder peace than that."

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