cover image Water over Stones

Water over Stones

Bernardo Atxaga, trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and Thomas Bunstead. Graywolf, $18 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-64445-095-6

Atxaga (Nevada Days) offers a remarkable and sprawling story of a friendship over five decades in the Basque country. During a sexual assault at age 14 by Elías’s school warden, Elías retaliates by stabbing him with a corkscrew. He then begins displaying signs of selective mutism, and his mother sends him to the town of Ugarte, where he befriends twin siblings Martín and Luis. In the mid-1980s, Martín’s participation in strikes at a local mine escalates beyond picketing, and in 2012, recovering from a car accident, Luis is confronted by feverish memories of how he supported Martín’s violent actions during the strikes. As Martín’s daughter deals with sudden health issues, Luis asks Martín’s help to get in touch with Elías, now living in Texas. Atxaga expertly manages the pacing and character descriptions, with even offhand statements from minor characters going a long way, as when Martín and Luis’s father comments on Elías’s condition, subtly foreshadowing Luis’s accident. As the years go on, an intricate study emerges of what it means for the characters to rely on each other as they grow older. It’s a twisting and rewarding story, and one readers will savor until the lovely finish. (Aug.)