Manuel is growing up in Franco's Spain. He adores his elder sister, María, and they are watched over by their mother, who enjoys reciting poetry, and their father, a construction worker with vertigo. Beyond the walls of the house, he encounters chatty hairdressers and priests, wolf hunters and monstrous carnival effigies.
The community is still haunted by the civil war, yet Manuel's world is changing. Coca-Cola opens a factory nearby and news arrives of men landing on the moon. This is a story about family, memory and the experiences that make us who we are.
A man's obsession with literature leads him to see the world through the eyes of fiction
Literature can be contagious; it can also be our only means of salvation. That at least is the experience of Montano, the 'unreliable narrator' of Enrique Vila-Matas' prize-winning novel, a man and a writer who is so obsessed with the books of certain celebrated contemporaries that he is unable to put pen to paper or utter a word without summoning up their work or their lives, and whose malady is that he finds it impossible to distinguish between real life and fictional reality. Part picaresque novel, part intimate diary, part memoir, part philosophical musings, Vila-Matas has created a labyrinth in which writers as various as Cervantes, Sterne, Kafka, Musil, Perec, Bolaño, Coetzee, Sebald and Magris cross endlessly surprising paths, while his protagonist leads the reader on an unsettling journey from European cities such as Nantes, Barcelona, Lisbon, Prague and Budapest to the Azores and the Chilean port of Valparaíso.
Yet for all the author's dazzling literary pyrotechnics, this is a novel that is always witty and accessible.
Manuel Rivas delivers a literary masterpiece about three young friends growing up in a community which is bound by a conspiracy of silence
Fins and Brinco are best friends, and they both adore the wild and beautiful Leda. The three young friends spend their days exploring the dunes and picking through the treasures that the sea washes on to the shores of Galicia. One day, as they are playing in the abandoned school on the edge of the village, they come across treasure of another kind: a huge cache of whisky hidden under a sheet. But before they can exploit their discovery a shot rings out, and a man wearing an impeccable white suit and panama hat enters the room. That day they learn the most important lesson of all, that the mouth is for keeping quiet.
On 19 August 1936 Hercules the boxer stands on the quayside at Coruña and watches Fascist soldiers piling up books and setting them alight. With this moment a young carefree group of friends are transformed into a broken generation.
Out of this incident during the early months of Spain's tragic civil war, Manuel Rivas weaves a colourful tapestry of stories and unforgettable characters to create a panorama of twentieth-century Spanish history. For it is not only the lives of Hercules the boxer and his friends that are tainted by the unending conflict, but also those of a young washerwoman who sees souls in the clouded river water and the stammering son of a judge who uncovers his father's hidden library.
As the singed pages fly away on the breeze, their stories live on in the minds of their readers.