Ramon Saizarbitoria

Ramon Saizarbitoria
Photo  of ramon saizarbitoria1
Cover of 'bihotz bi' by ramon saizarbitoria (erein publishing house)
Cover of 'rossettiren obsesioa' by ramon saizarbitoria (erein publishing house)
The following is an article by M.J. Olaziregi. Translated from Basque by Kristin Addis.
Ramon Saizarbitoria (San Sebastián, 1944) won the I. Sustatu Prize from the Basque Government in 1994 for his professional work. The novels of this sociologist brought a completely innovative style and poetry to the Basque literature of the time. In addition, he was a member of the publishing houses Lur and Kriselu, one of the founders of the magazines Ustela (Corruption) and Oh Euzkadi! (Oh, the Basque Country!), and has participated in many collaborative works in various types of media.

Although he has published both poetry and essays worthy of mention (in particular, the essay Aberriaren alde (aberriaren kontra) [In Favor of the Homeland (Against the Homeland)] in 1999), he is most praised in Basque literature for his novels. In his early novels, Egunero hasten delako (Because It Begins Each Day, 1969), Ehun metro (A Hundred Meters, 1976) and Ene Jesus (Dear Jesus, 1976), Saizarbitoria saw novel-writing as a quest, that is, as an attempt to experiment and say new things. From this point of departure, one close to that of the nouveau roman movement, the way of telling stories is more important than the stories themselves. The evolution shown by the three novels mentioned above is truly noteworthy, as is the technical skill they demonstrate. A meditation on composition itself becomes the most important theme of the third novel, Ene Jesus.

If, in the 1970s Saizarbitoria conquered the frontier of silence with the novels that brought him fame, in his novels of the 1990s, he was inspired by a postmodernist viewpoint: since trying to destroy the past brings us to silence, the only solution we have is to revisit that past. The novelist uses memory to regain the past. The novel Hamaika pauso (Uncounted Footsteps, 1995) could be classed as a generational novel, that is, as a novel which portrays a whole generation. The novel paints a portrait of the disturbed political climate of the 1970s and 1980s, beginning with the agony of Otaegi, who together with Angel, was one of the members of ETA executed before Franco's death. By the end of the novel, its thematic thread sums up the horror and terrible solitude preceding death and, to symbolize the terrible drama of the protagonist, the work makes use of metanarrative and intertextual references to death. This novel won Saizarbitoria the 1995 Critics' Prize, as did the novel Bihotz bi. Gerrako kronikak (Love and War), published in 1996.

The duality implicit in the title predicts that the novel was constructed around the strongest human sentiments, love and hate, and, as in Hamaika pauso, we know the novels tragic end from the very beginning: after finding out that she cheated on him, the narrator/protagonist kills his wife by throwing her out a window. In the novel, the husband recounts the fundamental ups and downs of his relationship with his wife. Chronological time is turned upside down again and again through repetition and flash-forwards which submerge us in the psychological time of the main character. As the narrator says, 'the narration of a story is more attractive than the story proper', and thus, the same conflictive scenes are repeated over and over, in detail and obsessively.

Together with the successful Kandinsky-ren tradizioa (Kandinsky's Tradition, 2001), written for young readers, the book Gorde nazazu lurpean (Let Me Rest, Erein, 2000) is, to date, Saizarbitoria's last. The book's excellent reception is confirmed in the prizes it has won so far: the Critics' Prize and the Euskadi Prize, among others. Gorde nazazu lurpean is a collection of five long stories that have one thing in common: bodies rise from the grave, though for different reasons. It is from the longest of these stories, Rossetti-ren obsesioa (Rossetti's Obsession), that we chose this selection to present in three languages in this issue of our journal. We meet the protagonist Juan Martin, a reclusive character like the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, obsessed with his works of art. This obsession will thwart the relationship he has with two different women. Irony, humor and intertextual references to art and psychoanalysis are the ingredients of this excellent novel.

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