cover image TWO BROTHERS


Bernardo Atxaga, , trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. . Harvill, $16 (128pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-834-6

The mating dance turns into a hunting game in Atxaga's dark parable, which begins when the father of two postpubescent Basque boys, Daniel and Paolo, suddenly dies. Paolo, the younger, is charged with the task of taking care of his 20-year-old retarded brother, but the reclusive boy, a sawmill worker, runs into problems when Daniel's sexual urges surface. A pretty young girl named Teresa begins offering him cake, hoping she can use Daniel to get access to his handsome 16-year-old brother, and is aided in her quest by the boys' spiteful cousin, Carmen. When their plan fails to draw out Paolo, they scheme to get Daniel to enter a bike race in the local fiesta, a plan that backfires when Daniel ends up attacking the boy who wins the race. But there's much more to this story than the sexual and romantic dodging and weaving between boys and girls—Atxaga's narrators are the animals and spirits who live in and around the village: a bird, the local squirrels, a star, a duplicitous snake and finally a goose whose attack on the snake parallels Daniel's violent outburst. The mysterious voice that drives the actions of the animals lends a dark, totemic angle to this strange but beguiling yarn, which maintains an undeniable appeal despite a murky tragic ending. Atxaga, a Basque author who has written novels, plays and children's books, brings an intriguing voice of his own as well as a talent for unexpected twists and turns; this book should whet the appetites of American readers for more of his work. (Mar.)