Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Galíndez by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1992)

I bought this copy of Galíndez by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1992) a looooooooong time ago when it was a super bargain book while I worked at Barnes and Noble. I've moved it around with me for years but never read it, mostly, I think, because the cover is particularly ugly and indistinct. I've been trying to weed my bookshelves a bit to make room for more books, so I decided to get rid of old Galíndez, but I have a hard time getting rid of a book I owned for years but never read. I'm still letting Galíndez go, but I'm very glad I read it and I'm interested in checking out some more Montalbán in the future.

This is a novelization of the true story of Jesús Galíndez, a Basque nationalist and Spanish exile after the civil war who ended up in the Dominican Republic for several years before moving to the United States. After writing a thesis exposing the violence behind the Trujillo dictatorship in in the Dominican Republic, Galíndez disappeared from the streets of New York in 1956 and his body was never found.

In Montalbán's novel, an ex-Mormon American graduate student named Muriel Colbert takes up the life of Galíndez for her doctoral thesis in the late 1980s and begins to interview people in New York and Madrid who knew him. Chapters alternate between the intertwining of Muriel's research and personal life, flashbacks to the last hours of the life of Galíndez, and the present-day work of two FBI agents who want Colbert to stop her digging before she uncovers too much and disrupts relations between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic during the not-entirely-frozen Cold War.

The prose style veers between experimental chapters with pages of text unbroken by paragraphs or quotation marks to snappy dialogue and fast-paced action worthy of a spy novel. In Agent Robards, Montalbán has created one of the most creepy and hilarious salmon-paste eating drunken characters ever put to the page (the scene where he pisses on the hot rocks in a sauna is particularly evocative of his nature). But even in the experimental sections, Montalbán never loses his readers' attention or the suspicious mood of the book. This is the kind of book that could be weakened by the wrong ending, but Montalbán doesn't let us down: The ending is brutal but perfect, and tightly snaps together the structure of the novel.

I'm not sure why this famous Barcelonaean novelist slipped through the cracks of my reading pile, but I'm glad he eventually found his way to the top. This is a nice very Spanish feeling novel, and worth a read despite the ugly cover.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you're interested in reading more Montalban, we're publishing five of his novels in the months to come, beginning with 'Angst-Ridden Executive' in January. If you'd like more information, email me at kathleen@mhpbooks.com


Kathleen Massara
Melville House