Academic journal article Shofar

Sepharad, by Antonio Muñoz Molina

Academic journal article Shofar

Sepharad, by Antonio Muñoz Molina

Article excerpt

New York: Harcourt, 2003. 385 pp. $27.00.

Antonio Muñoz Molina is one of the most prestigious novelists now writing in Spain. Over the last two decades, his novels have combined modern and postmodern literary technique with powerful storytelling, earning both critical acclaim and a wide popular audience while broadening the limits of traditional fiction. Sepharad, his latest novel, now translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden, exemplifies these qualities.

Sepharad is a novel of novels. Each of its seventeen chapters functions as a self-enclosed story, but all share a tone and a theme, and many are interconnected by time, common conflicts, and characters. The novel's first-person narrator, who seems much like Muñoz Molina, rarely speaks of himself. Instead he listens to others and relates their stories. With seamless transitions, the narrative structure alternates between the narrator's reflections and the stories he tells. One moment he ruminates on the burden of identity and how it becomes lighter when we travel; the next we hear a cough and find ourselves sitting next to Kafka on a train.

The stories can be divided into three types. The first group focuses on people who experienced persecution during World War II and who would be unknown to a general audience. Most are about people who suffered the Stalinist purges. The reader learns, for example, of the dramatic lives of Eugenia Ginzburg, Margarete Buber-Neumann and her husband, and the fall from grace of Communist propagandist Münzerberg. These stories, though always fragmentary, are dramatized with detail, offering glimpses into the lives of those suddenly trapped by accusations and persecution. Stories of better-known lives -- Kafka, Primo Levi, Walter Benjamin -- make the second group. They are referred to and quoted throughout, making for some of the most memorable sentences in the novel. A third group of stories centers exclusively on Spanish characters, some fictional, some real, with experiences of exile, war, or marginalization. These are the most developed stories and narratively are the most satisfying. Some have to do with major events of the twentieth century: Spaniards who fought in the Blue Division alongside the Nazis in Russia, and Loyalists who went into exile after the Spanish Civil War. …

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