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issue 22: January -February 2001 

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Juan Goytisolo


The following two pieces are taken from Goytisolo's latest collection, The Garden of Secrets (Serpent's Tail, 2000), in which twenty-eight storytellers - one for each letter in the Arabic alphabet - gather in a garden over a three-week period to tell the story of a poet, Eusebio, arrested in the early days of the Spanish Civil War.  Eusebio, a friend of Federico García Lorca and his Circle, had escaped assassination and fled to North Africa where he was (according to some versions of the story) incarcerated in a Falange Training School and, according to one storyteller, given a new name and identity.  Each storyteller offers his own impression of the poet and his surroundings during this epoch, some versions collaborating with others, some contradicting. Was Eusebio a victim of Falangist brainwashing or a traitor or a saint or something else altogether?  The reader is presented with an imaginative exploration of variant possibilities.  As one member of the group announces in the opening chapter: 

. . . our Circle created [the stories] these weeks in the garden out of absolute respect for each storyteller's inventiveness. Although the narrators' different points of view and variegated literary education led to a powerful centrifugal tendency, the thematic convention of clinging to Eusebio's character acted as check and counterbalance. As the Circle's secretary and anonymous scribe . . . my role was reduced to the structuring of what some avant-garde critic would call the 'hypertext', in accord with the roll-call of readings for our summery gatherings in the garden.

Here follows "Khaa," a story from the First Week; and "Ghayn," a selection from the Second Week.

    'You are, my friend, Eugenio Asensio, you're born again, you've changed names and, for the good of Spain, your previous and devious personality.' Comrade Basilio smiled at him with the aplomb and rigour bestowed by rank. He wore the uniform of the Falange: red beret, boots, blue shirt, yoke and arrows. He had summoned him to his office and, for the first time since the events, somebody was addressing him, if not affectionately, at least warmly.
    'By a whisker your brother-in-law's intervention saved you from meeting your Maker; you were on the list of Reds to be executed. Your poor sister wept her heart out, begged and begged till her husband gave in. That was when they took you from the garage where you were shoved cheek by jowl with those destined for the paseo, handcuffed and blindfolded, to get round the duty officer who wasn't in on the act. You can't imagine the stratagems your family's friends had recourse to, what obstacles they confronted to sneak you out of Melilla and bring you here in one piece. They saved you from the fate of Federico, a good lad when all's said and done, like you tricked by envy-ridden intellectuals and politicos in the pay of the Anti-Spain. Now you're in a safe haven and we'll do what was agreed. Put behind you who you were, your shameful penchant for Mohammeds and labourers, bad friends and twisted ideas. From now on my comrades and I will see to it you become a wholesome man, wear the uniform expressing our all-embracing, combative spirit, strengthen yourself body and soul, espouse the values consubstantial with the fatherland forged by its martyrs' bloody sacrifice. Look at your new documentation: the dates haven't changed, your place of origin has. You were born in the Canary Islands, like our Army of Salvation. Your name is Eugenio Asensio Garcia. Eugenio, because, as one of the luminaries of our thought writes, with characteristic rigour and lucidity the eugenic cleansing and regeneration of a people has to impact on the totality of its constituent individuals, to create an ethnically improved, morally robust and spiritually vigorous caste. A eugenics to liberate individuals from damaging cancers and return them, via a programme of proper mental and physical hygiene, to the incubator, to germinate and blossom as in a greenhouse, forged against the corrupting environment, by the sacred store of principles firing our Crusade.
    'I know what it means for you to cut all ties with a person of your sister's stature and capacity for love. She's in tears as well but feels happy and grateful to her husband. She has sworn to him she'll not try to contact you and I'll be responsible for informing her of your progression to a total cure. From now you'll be among men, the leaders and fighters of the Falange, determined to shape their lives after the example of their Founder. There's no room here for the moral scruples of English laydeez or any soft-soaping:
    this is no convent. The mannered ways of hypocrites and do-gooders are not our scene. Our life is one of obedience, discipline, militia: the militarisation of school, university, factory, workshop, of every pore of society. We don't want rewards, Laureates or Medals of Suffering for the Fatherland. Hierarchy is based on merit, selflessness and vigour in the service of Spain. By my side, by the side of Veremundo and his doughty fighters, you'll learn the virtues of manliness, the longing after perfection of Greek philosophers and German artists. When it's time to work and do your duty, work and do your duty like the next man; when it's time to have a good time, on the razzle and the beer, enjoy yourself, satisfy the body. We won't force you to go to brothels if you're still in two minds and their ways put you off. But gradually we'll inculcate in you noble tastes and desires. Proper male camaraderie excludes all forms of hypocrisy and cant.
    'Stop reading palsied prose, absorb the tough truths of José Antonio, the essays of Ramiro de Maeztú, Onésimo Redondo and Ledesma Ramos. Choose between the peaks and the abyss, between anarchy and the Renaissance ideal of the poet-soldier. Your bohemian, egg-head mentors generate castrated, masturbatory art: abstract drawings, dramas of adultery, trite, effeminate poetry, novels inciting class struggle. Tasteless, stinking fruit falling apart in the hands like rotten apples. Whoever sidesteps truth and denies the sap of our spirit misses out on beauty, inverts the proper scale of values, undermines his labour, dilutes his genius, embitters life.
    'Here's a letter from your sister, and inspired by the admirable generosity and grandeur of her soul, against what's been agreed, I'll read you a paragraph: "Tell him to try and be happy and adapt to his new state. I'll keep him present in my memories but I understand how he needs to remake his life far from me. The gratitude I owe God and my husband compensates my grief at his absence. Dear Lord, I hope to see him one day when peace rules and embrace him in my arms as if he were still a child!"'
    Basilio filed the letter in its folder and, after a pensive silence, invited him to get up and look through the window with him: a phalanx of energetic, able-bodied youths, supple and healthy-looking, marched by in warrior step to Veremundo's whistles and orders, one two, one two, right, left, half-turn, halt, attention and intone the 'Cara al sol' before they break ranks and cheerfully, noisily disperse in the barrack yard, in a spontaneous show of camaraderie to warm the cockles of his heart.

A Viscontian spotlight on the end of Veremundo and Basilio
Like many young people of my generation, my upbringing has been cinematic rather than literary. I prefer to see the pages of my favourite novels translated into images, witnessing high-tension dramas, contemplating the whole range of emotions of the human soul on the protagonists' faces. That's why I'm bored to tears by works which adapt with difficulty to the screen, Joyce, Céline, Thomas Bernhard and others of that kind, like Count Julian about whom so many mind-numbing theses have been compiled.
    My colleague's tale of the political trial rigged in April 1937 against Eusebio's Falange leader friends, a trial made possible by the sexual practices of the accused and their rites of 'initiation into manhood' brought back adolescent memories of an old Visconti film about similar happenings in the same decade with the Nazi leaders of the SA.
    Wanting to reconstruct the facts, referred to tangentially in the MSB report, and the statement extracted under duress from the unfortunate poet, object of this investigation, I consulted the documents accessible to the general public in the provincial archive of Granada, as well as those transferred to Madrid in the postwar period yet never came across the military file dealing with the summary judgement; that was probably destroyed by the investigation agency itself in order to erase all trace of the somewhat unedifying case. The only things I got from my interviews with half a dozen Old Blue Shirts were three photos of the accused and an original letter from Basilio to an anonymous acting lieutenant. One of the ex-youths of the phalanx gave the exact date of the events, 11th May 1937, and some of the circumstances of how his leaders were trapped in that mortal ambush.
    Had they conspired against the decree inspired by Franco to unify the Falange, National Syndicalist Youth and the Movement's monarchists and traditionalists? They probably had, I was told. Basilio and Veremundo were hardline Falangists: they considered such a fusion a monstrous mish­mash, contrary to José Antonio's ideals and aspirations. For several weeks they'd been in the sights of the MSB who were on the lookout for an opportunity to catch them hands on bums. One of the adolescents in the group, a Special Branch plant, told them the day and time of the initiation ceremonies. A strong contingent of security forces surrounded the school building in the early hours and burst into the leaders' private rooms with a round of machine-gun fire.
    An Old Blue Shirt I chatted to has a portrait of the founder of the Falange, with this handwritten scrawl by Basilio: Jos6 Antonio, silent, stately professor of absence. He also handed me four manuscript lines by the poet from Tangiers, whose name he did not recall, dedicated to Veremundo:
    God drives upwards!
    Excelsior! Excelsior!
    Wry above the clouds!
    To the moon! To the stars!

Another one quoted me lines by the Martyn learned by heart from Basilio's lips:
    It was a victory hymn clouds and waves at a proud, majestic pace
    sang to Spanish ships
    envoys of the Iberian Race!
I put my hands on several type-written sheets of quotes and phrases that served as a starting point for glosses and doctrinal commentary:
    Blue shirt, categorical, emblematic sign:
    Affirming,  aggressive uniform, sublimely totalitarian
    Yoke and Arrows, incarnation of
    youthful pride, of brave, bold energies,
    able to revive the Hispanic fatherland,
    crucible of faith and spiritualism.
The photo of a hatless Basilio, in Falangist boots and kit, his hair unkempt, shows a well-built, blond youth puffing his chest out and displaying a smiling set of even, white teeth. He looks about thirty - born 1903 according to the Baza parish records - and exudes a confidence in the future which the sound and fury of those years very quickly gave the lie to.
    Veremundo's is a simple, blurry identity card. They also let me see a snapshot of him, squeezed between the lads from his cohort, like a trainer with his football team.
    This is the only material evidence I collected. The scraps of information about the attack on the Falange Training School are vague, riddled with contradictions and flagrant anachronisms. Did they attempt to resist and exchange fire, as one interviewee claimed? Did Veremundo die Star in hand, as another Old Blue Shirt reckons?
    Were they shot to smithereens where they staged their orgies?
    Faced with the need to write this story or chapter agreed for these peaceful weeks in the garden, I was suddenly rescued by Visconti's film to which I referred.
    ('Literature is the quickest, easiest means of diffusion for the corruptors of our age-old purity. The new Spain's mission is to burn and destroy whatever is poisoning it. The spectacle of Masonic, Communist and Jewish books on the bonfire is highly educational and cathartic?
    I quote from memory these lines written by an intellectual fellow-traveller of the Movement, which danced round my head to the stirring musical accompaniment of The Twilight of the Gods.)
Let's sketch in the scene: Basillo has just toasted the ideals of José Antonio and his heroic Blue Shirts. - five arrows of light! - who fell in the Crusade. He shares his glass with one of the youths and soon lips and breath are harmonised. Naked from the waist up, they feel and touch each other's naked torsoes. Veremundo's gramophone bellows out a beery 'Cara al sol' and 'ich hatt' eme kamaraden'. In the half-dark I can make out fair-haired youths, smooth-chested and beardless, but wearing Falange berets. One of them pours out the wine and keeps the glasses filled. I listen to Basilio's speechifying on the synthesis of epic and lyric, on virile ardour and purity modelled on Greek and Teutonic ideals: 'Nobly erect like ears of wheat, ready to sacrifice your lives to defeat the plebeian dregs of a soulless, prostituted Spain? When he snuffs out the candles, the scant light is gone. Now I catch glimpses of promiscuous members, body around body on bunks and mattresses. The gramophone huskily blares the bellicose voices which exalt death, completely oblivious to her imminent arrival. 'That's a corker, and a fine pair of balls,' says Basilio. 'None of that pansy poofery for me, we're valiant, upstanding men? The tune and words I had a comrade/the best of the lot/we marched together/ we advanced together/to the beat of the drum cloak embraces, couplings, alcoholic harangues. It's 2 a.m., the implacable hour of the reaper.
    Don't ask me about the butchery. I don't know how it happened and Visconti cut it to a brief sequence. Did the supposed ring-leaders of the conspiracy die there and then or were they executed soon after, and with or without trial? Nobody could give me a straight answer. In the scenario of sodomite Saturnalia wine mingled with blood. Eusebio's letter dated in Sevilla read by our fellow reader in the first week in this peaceful, make-believe garden probably figures among the documents saved from the attack.

© Juan Goytisolo

These electronic versions of 'Khaa' & 'Ghayn' appear in The Barcelona Review with kind permission from Serpent's Tail and Peter Bush.
Book ordering available through amazon.co.uk

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author bio

GoytisoloJuan Goytisolo, born in Barcelona in 1931, is one of Spain's preeminent writers. A bitter opponent of the Franco regime, his early novels were banned in Spain. In 1956 he moved to Paris and has since written novels, essays and two volumes of autobiography.  His most recent collection, The Garden of Secrets (2000) is published by Serpent's Tail, who have published several other of his works. Goytisolo now lives in Marrakesh.

Peter Bush is the translator of Nuria Amat, Juan Carlos Onetti and Luis Sepúlveda among others.  He is also the Director of the British Centre for Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

author photo: Jane Brown

navigation:                                 barcelona review 22              january - february 2001

Frederick Barthelme - Driver
Helen Simpson - Wurstigkeit
Frank Huyler - two stories
John Aber - Massage
Juan Goytisolo - two stories

-Poetry Tim Turnbull - 7 poems
Antoni Clapés -
from Hair's Breadth

George Orwell
Answers to last issue's Gothic/Horror Quiz

-Regular Features Book Reviews
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