Bernardo Atxaga

Bernardo Atxaga
Photo of bernardo atxaga1
Cover of 'soinujolearen semea' by bernardo atxaga (pamiela publishing house)1
Lesson 13- the lone woman-the harvill press
Cover of 'the lone man' by bernardo atxaga (harvill press)

Joseba Irazu, whose nom de plume is Bernardo Atxaga, belongs to that small percentage of Basque writers (about a 7% of all 300 authors), who live from their writing. He has collected more prizes than any other Basque author to date (besides the Premio Nacional de Narrativa, which he received in 1989, many other awards support his status: the Milepages in 1991, the Tres Coronas de los Pirineos Atlánticos in 1995, the Vasco Universal in 2002, the Cesare Pavese Poetry prize in 2003) and he sells more books than anyone else writing in Basque. In other words, he is an eminently exportable author.

The fact that in 1999 The Observer listed him among the 21 top writers for the 21st century gives faith of his literary stature abroad. Although Atxaga has pursued different literary genres (narrative, poetry, essay, theatre or children's literature), he is an author who enjoys subverting the narrow margins between literary genres and exploring new aesthetic propositions. He has moved from the more post-avant-garde and experimental texts of his early literary career (early 70s), to the creation of the fantastic universe of Obaba (in the 80s), to the realist novels of the 90s, in which the axis of the argument follows a character's journey.

I'd like to start by mentioning one of his books available in English translation. Obabakoak (1994, Vintage) was shortlisted for the European Literary Prize in 1990. The critic Suárez Galbán in his review A Village in the Palm of One's Hand (cf. The New York Times Book Review, 20-6-93), described this collection of interlinked stories as a delicious, barroque paella. During the 90s Atxaga's trajectory took a turn towards the realist. The Lone Man was published by Harvill in 1996, and The Lone Woman by the same publishers in 1999. The Lone Man has been translated into 15 languages and has received several important prizes (the Spanish Critics prize in 1993 - and it was shortlisted for the Aristerion and the IMPAC prizes in 1996). The book was very well received abroad. In Italy, France and Germany the critics viewed it as an attractive, interesting novel. But British critics in particular took very enthusiastically to The Lone Man, and the reviews published in the TLS (written by D Horspool on 09.08.96) and the New Statesman (by J May on 02.08.96), underlined that Atxaga's novel was not a conventional thriller, and that place and action developed symbolically through the use of evocative imagery that enriched the plot.

Meantime, R Gott in The Guardian (29.07.96) highlighted the originality of the theme and the rhythm of the novel, and P Millar in The Times (03.08.96) said the novel was a captivating odyssey into the mind of the protagonist. The novel The Lone Woman (Harvill, 1999) is another example of a novel structured around a character. It was first published in Basque in 1995, and in Spanish, in the author's own translation, a year later. The Spanish edition was excellently received, and the first print run of 20000 copies sold out very quickly.

The Lone Woman caused great controversy from the start, because of the particular characteristics of its main character, Irene, an ETA prisoner who volunteers for the Social Rehabilitation Plan, and in doing so leaves both the organization and jail. (M.J. Olaziregi: Internal and external displacements in Bernardo Atxaga´s The Lone Woman, Riev [International Journal on Basque Studies] 48:2, 2003, 577-588. Updated version: Olaziregi, M.J.: Waking the Hedgehog. The Literary Universe of Bernardo Atxaga, University of Nevada-Center for Basque Studies, 2005)

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