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Obabakoak by Bernardo Atxaga
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Obabakoak (1989)

by Bernardo Atxaga

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Spanish (6)  English (2)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (10)
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The edition I read labels the book as a novel right on the cover below the title. I think I have a pretty open-minded threshold for what constitutes a novel, but in the first half I couldn't see any reason to see the book in that light. Rather, here were a collection of short vignettes grouped into broad categories and of varying degrees of appeal. Ostensibly the unifying element was the titular village of Obaba, but it rarely seemed really important that the setting was this fictitious village--as though the author might just as well have collected together some unrelated stories and added in a reference to the place name "Obaba" after the fact in order to justify the collection. (There was also, inexplicably, one section--about 60 pages, almost a fifth of the total book--which was set in a different village called Villamediana). The second half finds a way to interestingly frame its stories and weave them together in an overarching narrative, to bring the past stories back in reference to later ones, but I should say that the stories of the first half weren't BAD for lacking this quality. I only mean to say that the book walks a confusing line by calling itself a novel and yet resembling far more an anthology of short works.

I read this book while also reading Mark Kurlansky's "A Basque History of the World", which served as a very interesting companion. Atxaga's book largely avoids the political issues surrounding his Basque heritage (except toward the very end) and indeed many of his stories have an international quality, some taking place in South America, another in China, others in Germany, but the existence of his book is inherently related to the Basque struggle for self-determination. It was somewhat sad to me to see that what I was reading was a translation from a translation. The book could apparently not be translated directly from Euskera (Basque) to English but from the Spanish translation. Fortunately, it is a translation from the author's own Spanish translation, so we can feel confident that not too much has been lost in fidelity to the original, and as Atxaga himself asserts in his sign-off at the end, the advent of a distinctly Basque literature appears to be waxing rather than sputtering out, with the market for such works expanding. Perhaps as this trends continues there will come to be translators capable of transmitting the works of Basque authors directly to readers from other parts of the world.

The Prologue--a poem in which the author discusses his language--was perhaps my favorite part, in particular where he gives the words for the sun in winter and the sun in spring. ( )
3 vote CGlanovsky | Jun 15, 2013 |
This is a wonderful book of short stories. Obviously with any book of short stories not everyone can be your favorite but these were all good stories. Some long and some short to make for interesting reading. I'm not familiar with the area that is suppose to be described but I found it interesting. ( )
  IandSsmom | Jul 19, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bernardo Atxagaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Costa, Margaret JullTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Induni, Gio WaeckerlinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vuyk-Bosdriesz, JohannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Encuadernados la mayoría en piel y severamente dispuestos en las estanterías, los libros de Esteban Werfell lenaban casi por entero las cuatro paredes de la sala;
Recibí dos letters en muy poco tiempo: la primera un viernes y la seugnda cinco días más tarde, un miércoles de mucho sol.
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A unique and stunning international literary event: winner of Spain's National Prize for Literature, Obabakoak, a work of fiction, is one of only several hundred books to be written in four centuries in Basque, a language understood by few (the author himself had to translate his book into Spanish to broaden its appeal throughout Europe, where it has been published to ecstatic acclaim). Obabakoak means "the people and things of Obaba (a Basque village)," and the narrator weaves a tale reminiscent of Scheherazade's. The village is peopled with rascals, innocents, intellectuals, shepherds, hunters, idiots, and creatures of superstition, and the interconnection of their private worlds is brilliantly evoked. Parody, riddles, texts within texts abound in a book that is playful yet always tinged with melancholy. Possessed of the timelessness of the fairy tale and informed by the lore of the oral tradition - and offering a good-humored spin through metaliterature and intertextuality - Obabakoak is a multi-faceted and rousing celebration of the art of storytelling.… (more)

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