cover image Nevada Days

Nevada Days

Bernardo Atxaga, trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-55597-810-5

Vladimir Nabokov may have dismissed Reno as a “dreary town,” but Basque novelist Atxaga (Seven Houses in France) profits from his nine-month stay there to produce this uncanny if occasionally desultory fictionalized travelogue. A visiting writer at the University of Nevada’s Center for Basque Studies in 2007, Atxaga explores the sublime deserts and campy tourist attractions in a “state that flourished thanks to... divorce, gambling, prostitution and mining for gold and silver.” Upon arriving, he catalogs his new environment’s dangers, the rattlers and black widows, instilling a sense of menace that intensifies when a string of unsolved sexual assaults occurs. These crimes hover in the background as the writer takes various excursions, interspersing his impressions with youthful memories and letters home to an ailing friend. He drives into the vast desert in which the adventurer Steven Fossett disappeared and recounts more prosaic outings that don’t always reward the side trip: visiting San Francisco with his wife and two daughters and attending Barack Obama’s and Hilary Clinton’s campaign rallies. Atxaga turns his attention not only to American customs but also to the region’s Basque history, from the shepherds who emigrated there to the fascinating tale of Paulino Uzcudun, a champion boxer who trained in Steamboat Springs. Ultimately, this discursive narrative full of fear, wonder, and detours rewards the patient traveler. (July)