Recounting is the first volume of a tetrology, Antagonia, written by award-winning Spanish novelist, Luis Goytisolo. The first translation into English appeared just a few months ago. I mean volume in all senses, since Recounting by itself weighs in at over 640 pages. The novel is semi-autobiographical, and Goytisolo recounts growing up on the outskirts of Barcelona in the years after the Civil War. The shadow of the war looms large. The first chapter opens with images of fleeing soldiers and a corpse in the river. The protagonist, Ramon, recalls taunting his grandmother by leaving crusts of bread around the house that she hoards in her dresser. Hundreds of thousands of republican refugees had fled to Barcelona during the Civil War, and starvation had been rampant. Ramon describes the decaying gentility of his Francoist family, his Catholic schooling, and his mandatory military service. During his university years, Ramon joins the forbidden Communist party. He writes and disseminates leaflets. He attempts to bomb a fascist monument. Ramon becomes a lawyer and a sociology professor, but his life is static. He remains in the Communist party out of inertia and stays with a girlfriend he doesn’t love because he can’t figure out how to move on. He’s arrested, becomes a political prisoner, and is placed in isolation, where he begins to write the beginnings of a novel on toilet paper. Like Ramon, Goytisolo studied law, was incarcerated in an isolated cell on account of his membership in the Communist party, and began Recounting by writing on prison toilet paper.
Recounting refers to the counting of prisoners inside Francoist prisons as well as the act of remembering. The novel doesn’t deserve a second chance–internal monologues, descriptions of cathedrals, meditations about Communist dialectic and Catalan history, and even single sentences go on for pages–but recounting itself does warrant a second chance. Following Franco’s death, to facilitate the transition to democracy, all Spanish parties entered into a “pact of oblivion.” The pact was cemented with a 1977 amnesty law, which sheltered those who participated in the Francoist atrocities from prosecution. The policy of forgetting was supplanted with the 2007 Law of Historical Memory. The Law of Historical Memory declared illegitimate the military tribunals that led to executions of tens of thousands, removed markers and memorials honoring Francoists, and began the process of exhuming the Francoist victims consigned for decades to unmarked, mass graves. The Obelisk of Victory that Ramon attempted to blow up was removed in 2011.