Healing through fiction: Spain’s long-awaited step towards closure.
Title: Patria (Homeland)
Author: Fernando Aramburu
Language: Spanish — translated to all major languages.
The best-selling book in Spain in 2017 and 2018, Patria is already considered a contemporary classic.
For a country which has for so long struggled to process and move on from its troubled past, Patria is a literary work that will mark another step towards closure after the disbandment of ETA in 2018.
Story: Set in a small town within the Guipúzcoa province in the Basque Country, Patria tells the story of a local businessman murdered by an ETA militant and the ensuing impact on the families of both victim and culprit.
Style: Patria avoids falling into the easy trap of villainizing ETA militants and loyalists. Instead, it guides us deep into the psyche of the most radical Etarras, their sense of oppression and fury towards the Spanish State, and their justification for the kidnapping and killing of police officers and those failing to comply with their fundraising activities.
Aramburu shows himself to be a master of giving life and meaning to even the most monotonous aspects of daily life, whether it’s Miren’s daily fried fish suppers or the Basque Country rain.
What makes it great? Like so much of Spanish life, the beauty of Patria lies in its simplicity.
The tapas-size chapters with razor-sharp dialgoue and dark humour keep the reader on its toes. The colloquial nature of the book make it an extremely accessible read.
Aramburu’s majestic attention to the insignificant helps capture the mood and tension of daily life during a period of horrific bloodshed.
We see how the victims of ETA attacks were made to feel like culprits and those with Basque nationalist sentiments themselves felt like victims of both the state and the actual victims.
It’s a complex tale which deals with the old classics — love, hate, fear, regret, anger, despair, resentment and forgiveness — through stories we can relate to.
Flaws: Patria is jumpy. Because of the various timeframes, locations (San Sebastián, France, Germany, Czech Republic) and threads to this story, the flow between some chapters can feel confusing and clunky.
Impact: Daily life in Spain is defined by division.
We see every single day in the newspapers, on the radio or television: you’re on one side or the other.
Spain is extremely uneasy with its own history, and it’s ironic that it’s taken a work of fiction for many to grasp the reality of what Spain lived through.
Through fictional lives we are given a vivid account of the terror, devastation, and heartbreak suffered by families across Spain during its bloodiest period in recent memory.
It is an important step towards closure.
Patria is brilliant. It’s morbid yet captivating, simple yet profound.