cover image The Lone Man

The Lone Man

Bernardo Atxaga. Harvill Press, $26 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-135-4

The passions that fire the Basque independence movement are smothered beneath a thick blanket of political ideology in this 1994 tale of one man's efforts to come to terms with his revolutionary past through a final act of heroism. It is 1982, and while most of Spain's attention is focused on the World Cup soccer tournament being played in Barcelona Carlos, a Basque separatist turned hotelier, is hiding two members of the movement in his nearby establishment. The situation is complicated by the presence of a suspicious police force assigned to protect the Polish soccer team staying at the hotel, and by Carlos's ambivalence about his risky actions. Is his complicity a noble demonstration of his unquenchable revolutionary fervor, or a foolhardy gamble to alleviate the ennui he feels in his suddenly normal life? Atxaga (Obabakoak) strives to write the sort of personalized political thriller mastered by Graham Greene and Robert Stone, but he fails to create characters whose personal struggles give the issues at hand a human dimension. Carlos's mind is a sounding board for the incessant voices of his institutionalized brother, Kropotky, his guerrilla mentor, Sabino, and a cynical conscience he dubs ""the Rat."" But he is so estranged from his own emotions that he remains a cipher. Novels of such intense political conviction are rare, yet this one reads more like a textbook analysis of a revolution than a heartfelt account of one who fought in it. (Feb.)