cover image Cremation

Cremation

Rafael Chirbes, trans. from the Spanish by Valerie Miles. New Directions, $18.95

From the late Spanish writer Chirbes (On the Edge) comes a stream-of-consciousness account of a family reckoning with its relationships—both ironclad and frayed—in the wake of a beloved uncle’s death. In Misent, a fictional Spanish coastal city, unscrupulous developer Rubén Bertomeu grapples with memories of his late brother, Matias, a former anti-Franco revolutionary philosopher turned small-time farmer. The brothers could not have been more different: Ruben has transformed the once-idyllic city into a wealthy resort town overrun by condominiums. Many of Ruben’s own family members, including Matias and Ruben’s only daughter, Silvia, take umbrage with the machinations of his exploitation of small landowners, cutting backdoor deals with municipal authorities, and surreptitiously transporting drugs into the area. Spinning the story out from multiple perspectives, including Ruben’s 29-year-old second wife; one of Matias’s close confidants; and a former underling of Ruben’s, Chirbes imbues the characters with passion and intellect. There’s no conventional plot, but what emerges is a strong sense of late 20th-century Spanish culture and politics, especially through Ruben: “I’m the sole proprietor of these memories... I preserve it.” It adds up to a fascinating look at human interactions. (Nov.)