Monday, June 12, 2017

Juan Goytisolo / The Garden of Secrets / Review

The writers' circle

Juan Goytisolo sets 28 characters in search of an author in The Garden of Secrets

The Garden of Secrets 

Juan Goytisolo

Serpent's Tail £14.99, pp153

Stephanie Merritt

Sunday 17 September 2000 10.50 BST

Speaking recently in Edinburgh, the man Carlos Fuentes called 'the greatest living Spanish novelist' declared his firm belief that fiction, even for the most politically committed writer, should never be merely a vehicle for political ideas or propaganda. It is no surprise, then, to find that Juan Goytisolo's new novel touches only tangentially on political reality; none the less, his recurring concerns gleam through the fantastical narrative.

Goytisolo's novels were banned in his native Spain until the death of Franco and since 1956 he has lived in exile in Paris and Marrakesh. Defiantly pluralist, he has long been an advocate of multiculturalism and a fierce opponent of Spain's obstinate refusal to acknowledge the extent of Moorish and Jewish contributions to its culture and history, particularly its literature.
The Garden of Secrets is an attempt to recreate the polyphonic nature of literature by presenting the novel as a series of tales told by a circle of 28 anonymous readers over a period of three weeks. His 28 storytellers - one for each letter of the Arabic alphabet, a nod to the Cabbala - bring together, we are told, an impressive range of educational backgrounds, professions, literary tastes and ideologies with a specific, anti-authoritarian aim.
'The collaborative project was based on the systematic demolition of that disposable entity, the novelist, a happy, liberating dispensation' and 'the co-readers' aim was to put an end to the oppressive, pervasive notion of the Author'. Goytisolo's thoroughly postmodern conceit is so successful that it is almost possible to forget that these multiple storytellers, so richly different in their narrative voices, are really all the creatures of his imagination.

Almost, but not quite. The first chapter, in which the Circle's nameless scribe sets out the project, explicitly acknowledges a debt to two of the Spanish-language writers Goytisolo cites most frequently as his influences: 'Our Cervantine garden, with its flowerbeds and borders, belonged also to Borges: forking paths, advancing, extrapolating, halting, turning back.' But there are other, unstated tributes - to Calvino, to Boccaccio, to A Thousand and One Nights and particularly to the tradition of oral storytelling. There is also a Borgesian game going on in the deconstruction of the identity of Juan Goytisolo, whose name appears on the book jacket. In a sly joke, he dispatches this problem in the final chapter:
'Before breaking up, the Readers' Circle invented an author... they forged a rather fancy Iberian-Basque surname, Goitisolo, Goitizolo, Goytisolo - the last one finally won the day... wrote an apocryphal biography and imputed to him the creation - or desecration? - of 30-odd books...' What is identity if not a fictional construct?
The springboard for all the stories is the protean identity and unknown fate of a poet, known only as Eusebio, a Republican, homosexual and friend of Lorca's, who escaped execution by the Falangistas in 1936 to be interned in the military psychiatric centre in Melilla. Some rumours suggest that he escaped with the help of a former lover and lived as an exile in North Africa, other versions that he was successfully 'cured' of his political and sexual heterodoxies and returned to Spain a faithful supporter of the regime.
Thus the storytellers have only a name and a fragment of biography, and the stories they craft remind the reader that history can be rewritten, falsified, reinterpreted. There is no definitive account, no common ending. Goytisolo's narrators are inventing myths while subverting genres. The most explicitly political are brutal reminders of what the Republicans suffered under Franco; others weave in magic realism, inventing false identities for Eusebio, and yet others touch on him only indirectly, building on preceding stories and introducing a cast of characters who populate the arid Moroccan landscape of his later years.
Those who long for the clear lines of realist fiction will perhaps find the novel frustrating. But Goytisolo's extraordinary lyrical and imaginative gifts, faithfully transposed here by his long-time translator, Peter Bush, are simultaneously forceful and beguiling, and the only response is to give in to the tumultuous, hallucinatory voices. If Juan Goytisolo is a fiction, imagine the author who created him.


Juan Goytisolo / 'Je est un autre'
Juan Goytisolo / Paisaje después de las batallas
Muere el escritor Juan Goytisolo a los 86 años en Marrakech
Muere Juan Goytisolo, el escritor disidente
Juan Goytisolo según Orhan Pamuk
Juan Goytisolo y Monique Lange / Los amores difíciles
París, la otra patria de Jean Goytisolo
Juan Goytisolo estuvo y estará / Los momentos infernales del franquismo
Juan Goytisolo / Claves de un heterodoxo
Juan Goytisolo / Coto vedado / La sinceridad de un libro
Goytisolo en su amargo final

Juan Goytisolo  / Scourge of the new Spain 
Juan Goytisolo / Man Booker International prize 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment