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Outlaws by Javier Cercas

Outlaws (2012)

by Javier Cercas

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English (4)  Spanish (3)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All (9)
Showing 4 of 4
Unlike most of Cercas's books, this one is presented as a (fairly) straightforward, normal piece of imaginative fiction (although inevitably, it is based at least loosely on a real person). An unnamed writer is interviewing Ignacio Cañas about his connection with El Zarco (Blue-eyes), a long-term convict whose exploits as a juvenile delinquent during the period of the transition to democracy caught the imagination of Spanish journalists and film-makers, briefly turning him into a kind of Robin Hood figure.

These days, Cañas is a respectable criminal lawyer who has been representing El Zarco in his eternal disputes with the prison system, but what isn't so widely known is that during a few mad months in the summer of 1978, the 16-year-old Cañas rebelled against his middle-class background to join El Zarco's gang of juvenile criminals, stealing cars, snatching handbags and burgling holiday houses. With the interviewer's help, Cañas tries to sort out in his mind why this happened, why it didn't have any consequences for his bourgeois career, how he got drawn back into working for El Zarco, and what it was that was driving El Zarco and the rest of the gang. In particular, Cañas is puzzled about his relationship with El Zarco's closest associate, the enigmatic Tere - was it his attraction to her, or hers to him (or both), that drew him into the gang? or was she cynically using sex to manipulate him? or were their sexual encounters irrelevant to the whole thing? As the interviews keep on digging deeper, we realise that we have just as little reliable information as before - an imaginative novelist can answer questions about individual emotions and motivations, but an objective historian just has to leave them open. And the same goes for practically all the other "why?" questions raised in the book - by going over what happened and what people said, we can expose possible reasons for those things, but there is nothing that will allow us to decide reliably which account is "the correct one". ( )
1 vote thorold | Sep 5, 2017 |
Way too tortuous. And self-indulgent. ( )
  APopova | Jan 2, 2017 |
Excellent book. The best read of the year so far. It's sometimes hard for an author to carry off a book that has so much unexposed backstory but this one worked beautifully. ( )
1 vote TadAD | Aug 19, 2015 |
A Spanish journalist decides to write a biography about Antonio Gamallo, better known by his nickname of Zarco, a boy from a broken home in a poverty stricken neighborhood who led a gang of teenage bandits in the Catalonian city of Girona in the years immediately following Franco's death in 1975, until he was finally caught and imprisoned after a failed bank robbery. He spent the remainder of his adult life in prison, where he continually tormented his guards and the Spanish legal system as he publicly denounced his lengthy prison sentence in interviews and the two books he wrote. In doing so his case because a cause célèbre throughout Spain, as he brought to light the appalling conditions of Spanish prisons and the harsh sentences that were meted out to poorer Spaniards who could not afford the best legal representatives. Zarco developed a heroin addiction during his wild teenage years, which continued in prison, and it led to his death from AIDS in the early 2000s.

The unnamed journalist decides to interview those who knew Gamallo best, in an effort to distinguish between Antonio, the flawed man, and Zarco, the legendary persona adored by many. His primary source of information is Ignacio Cañas, a well established criminal defense lawyer in Girona. Unbeknownst to most people, Cañas was a member of Zarco's gang in the 1970s, as he was led into it, and out of his comfortable middle class existence, by Zarco and his alluring female companion Tere, but he managed to escape from the police chase that led to Zarco's capture. Cañas became Zarco's defense lawyer more than 20 years after his arrest, on the request of Tere, and the two men resumed their strong yet distant and troubled friendship, as Cañas attempts to gain Zarco's release from prison, and reestablishes his relationship with Tere after his divorce.

Many unanswered questions and mysteries about what happened on the day of Zarco's capture and the events that led up to it have persisted in each of the three main characters' minds for two decades. Each of them holds onto their secrets tightly, and what is divulged to the other two, and ultimately to the journalist, is often dubious and unreliable. In chapters that consist of transcribed interviews of Cañas and others who knew him well, the stories of Zarco, Tere and Cañas. who was known as Gafitas during the time he spent in Zarco's gang, unfold like a matryoshka doll, yet many unanswered questions and the essential truths about Gamallo/Zarco remain elusively out of reach to each of them, and to the journalist.

Similar to Javier Cercas's other novels, Outlaws is based on a real person, in this case Juan José Moreno Cuenca (1961-2003), who led a teenage gang in Barcelona until his capture in the late 1970s. Similar to Zarco, "El Vaquilla", who embodied a generation of Spanish youth lost to heroin in the 1970s and 1980s, wrote two books about his life and imprisonment, Yo, El Vaquilla (I, El Vaquilla) and Hasta la Libertad (Until Freedom) and his life was the basis of the movie Perros Callejeros (Stray Dogs). Numerous songs were written in honor of him after his death as well.

Outlaws is an outstanding page turner of a novel, filled with twists and unexpected revelations around sudden turns in the narrative. Although Zarco is the focus of the book, the lives of Gafitas and Tere are just as captivating, and the mysterious and uncertain relationships between the three held my interest from the first page to the last. In keeping with my other most favorite novels I could easily start reading it again now, and I certainly will do so in the near future. ( )
8 vote kidzdoc | Apr 16, 2015 |
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We get so used to disguising ourselves to others that, in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.

François de la Rochefoucauld
For Raül Cercas and Mercè Mas.
For the gang, for forty-odd
years of friendship.
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'Shall we begin?'
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