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The Calligraphy of Dreams by Juan Marsé

The Calligraphy of Dreams

by Juan Marsé

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Spanish (3)  French (1)  English (1)  All languages (5)
Ringo is an adolescent boy, growing up in the politically charged era just after the 2nd world war, in Barcelona. The town has many people on the cusp of poverty, including his family. In addition, the aftermath of the Spanish civil war means various draconian laws and arrests. Barcelona also has to cope with the question of Catalonian independence. This is the backdrop to the story, but it's also about vibrant, almost magical realist, characters.

Ringo himself is growing up with grand delusional ambitions to be a concert pianist, until he carelessly loses a finger as a jewellery apprentice. He often lives in a fantasy world in his head, which he readily enthralls his friend with, when spinning his stories. His hormones, like many adolescent boys, are also in full swing, and he seems to fall in love - or rather lust - in almost every chapter.

The fulcrum of the story, and how it begins, is via Senora Mir, whose daughter Ringo has a huge crush on. She melodramatically attempts suicide by lying across tram tracks - that haven't seen a tram pass them in years. The reason is that her lover has spurned her. Later on it seems as if he's still interested and will send her some letter of import very soon. Every day she goes to the local bar to check if it's arrived.

One day, by chance, Ringo meets up with this lover, quite a charlatan, who gives Ringo the letter to deliver.

SPOILER WARNING: Ringo loses the letter, and is haunted by this mistake for half the book. Eventually he writes an incredibly ham-fisted attempt at a substitute when Senora Mir falls ill, he assumes partly of a broken heart. But the letter was never meant for her, but her teenage daughter, that this man had fallen in love with. This raises many questions that the book doesn't answer. Is this lover deluded too in how much of a relationship he had with this daughter? How much did Senora Mir know about this? Was she trying to cover for or protect her daughter? It's hard to tell, but what's clear is that there's a general mood of resigned desparation to everything in the novel. And the whole idea of fantasy imposed on reality pervades the novel, again making it verge on magic realism at times.

This is a much richer novel than it first appears. It's not just a well observed teen boy coming of age novel. It's not just a delicate portrait of a turbulent time in Barcelona history. There is also a deep undercurrent of how loosely we can be connected to reality, driven by the troubled, unhappy lives we can lead. ( )
  RachDan | Jun 24, 2018 |
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Torrente de las Flores. Siempre pensó que una calle con este nombre jamás podría albergar ninguna tragedia.
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Gracia: a working-class district of Barcelona in the shadow of civil war. Life is hard, the city is grey, the oppressive Fascist regime oversees all. With his stepfather imprisoned for opposing Franco's regime, teenager Ringo finds himself torn from his childhood pursuits and thrown into the world of work. He must find his own form of resistance, escaping his drudging reality through the power of the imagination. Inspired by stolen glimpses of Hollywood glamour, Ringo finds himself daring to dream of falling in love with his young neighbour Violeta, escaping Spain for the allure of the West. But as he finds himself inveigled into an adult passion far beyond his comprehension, his fragile dreamscape struggles to survive.… (more)

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