Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Sites of Memory in Ramon Saizarbitoria's Martutene

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Sites of Memory in Ramon Saizarbitoria's Martutene

Article excerpt

A quote from Montaigne, 'This book was written in good faith', appears time and again in Ramon Saizarbitoria's novel Martutene (2012). This article, too, seeks to offer a reading or an interpretation made in good faith, based on memory studies.1 Taking into account the very complex nature of this novel, some interesting lines of study, which may be used to develop further interpretations in the future, have necessarily been left out. In that Martutene is one of the most comprehensive works that Basque literature has yet produced, and it makes an excellent attempt to describe society at a particular moment in time, it seems an almost inexhaustible work.

Saizarbitoria (b. Donostia 1944) is one of the most important writers in contemporary Basque literature. Critics credit him with, among other things, taking Basque novels into the modern period at the start of the 1970s (Olaziregi 2001). Saizarbitoria's 100 metro (1976)/100 meter (2009) is also considered to be the first novel about the Basque conflict. He published nothing in the almost twenty years between 1976 and 1995, but in 1995, with Hamaikapauso [Innumerable steps], he started a new phase in his novel writing. Since then, memory, the Spanish Civil War, the Basque conflict and Basque nationalism have always appeared in his novels. As Olaziregi (2012) states, Saizarbitoria has created a literary universe built up around memory in the novels he has published since the 1990s. Gorde nazazu lurpean (2000) [Keep me buried], for instance, represents some of the most significant Basque sites of memory, such as the Gudaris, Basque nationalist soldiers who defended the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War, the mortal remains of Sabino Arana, the founder of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), and the Intxorta mountains, which have been analysed as sites of memory by Olaziregi (2011), together with other sites such as Gernika in Soinujolearen semea (2003) (The Accordionist's Son) by Bernardo Atxaga, and the Navarrese Ribera in Antzararen bidea (2007) [On the trail of the goose], by Jokin Muñoz.

Martutene, too, is a 'oroipenaren nobela' [memory novel], in Kortazar's words (2012). It is one of the peaks in the writer's work and was awarded the Euskadi Literary Prize in 2013. It can be seen as a milestone in Saizarbitoria's novel writing, since, according to Aldekoa (2013), it closes the cycle which opened with Hamaika pauso. And it is also a milestone in contemporary Basque narrative in general. It should also be taken into account that Martutene was published at a special historical moment, when ETA gave up its armed activity. Gabilondo believes that it is probably the most important Basque novel published to date because it closes the whole period from 1989 to 2012: the period characterized by the hegemony of Basque neoliberal globalization (Gabilondo 2013: 15).

Most critics agree on the novel's importance and scope. It is difficult, then, to define such a work, to describe its main characteristics in just a few words. One could say that it is the story of two mature couples who have been affected by conflicts which started long ago, by guilt and by exhaustion. The arrival of Lynn, a young sociologist from the United States, turns the two couple's lifestyles upside down. Writer Martin and translator Julia are the main characters in the book's odd chapters, while the even ones narrate the story of doctors Iñaki Abaitua and his wife Pilar. We already know some of those names from Saizarbitoria's previous novels, particularly Iñaki Abaitua and Julia, although they are not the same characters; as Aldekoa (2013: 21) points out, they have aged. They belong to the same generation as the writer. Having grown up under the Franco regime, they were young in the 1960s and 1970s and are part of the twentyfirst century Basque bourgeoisie. In fact, Apalategi calls Martutene 'lehen euskal eleberri burges autentikoa' (2013: 75) [the first real bourgeois Basque novel].

As in some of Saizarbitoria's other works, conflicts in couples and political and historical conflicts are Martutene's literary themes. …

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