SmallStations - Books in English

Nico is a computer programmer from Coruña in Galicia. On a business trip to the city of Bergen in Norway, he visits the quays of Bryggen, a place he has been to before. He buys a couple of postcards from a shop there and, much to his surprise, discovers that one of them has captured the moment when he and his friends visited Bergen on an Interrail trip after leaving school ten years earlier. There they all are: Óscar in his Deportivo football shirt with Bea; Nico with the slightly pretentious Mía, poring over a map; the Italian exchange student, Piero, a few feet behind them. But where is Nico’s girlfriend, Aroa, and his best friend from school, Xacobe, the other two members of the group? Nico is shocked to find that they are in a corner of the postcard away from the others and are kissing. He resolves to unearth all the mystery surrounding that trip and the bitter month of September that immediately followed, when a tragedy occurred, a tragedy that split the group apart and from which no one has recovered. He will invite all his friends to a school reunion and, by gauging their reactions to the postcard, finally learn the truth of what happened.

Xavier Queipo’s novel Kite follows the life of Francis, a Galician-born emigrant in the United States, who lives in the city of San Rafael, north of San Francisco, and works as a freelance translator and editor. At a showing of Apocalypse Now in the cinema, he meets Rose, a liberal and career-minded Irishwoman, and they start a passionate relationship. But their carefree and hedonistic relationship is threatened when Francis, who has been asked by his publisher, Martin, to complete a translation into English of the Portuguese writer José Saramago’s Essay on Blindness in record time, owing to the predictions that Saramago might win the Nobel Prize, is himself diagnosed with the onset of blindness. How will Rose react? How will Francis cope with this descent into darkness? And will he be able to finish his translation of Saramago’s work in time? Kite takes us on a journey into the lives of emigrants in the United States whose traditional upbringing is often in conflict with the permissive, liberal society they inhabit. Then there is Andy, Francis’s ex-lover and a loyal friend, for whom he still harbours intense feelings, and a return to the Galicia of his birth, an experience Francis hopes will be balsamic, but which may prove catastrophic. We are left with the image of a Chinese boy on the beach in San Rafael, trying to fly his kite, the symbol of something (or someone) at the mercy of the wind. The boy is grateful for the help Francis offers, but unsure whether to accept. There is the gesture; we are left with the time and space to interpret it.

The four stories in When There’s a Knock on the Door at Night showcase the best of Galician storytelling in which elements of the everyday intersect with elements of the supernatural. Often the scene is a storm in the dark during which the traveller is forced to seek shelter for the night in a house where the story is told to him or he experiences the events himself. In ‘The Traveller’s Mirror’, a man on his way to reclaim his parents’ estate is caught in a storm and attracted by the light of a forge, which he deduces is not a ghost because it remains still. On entering the blacksmith’s house, he is struck by the similarity in their appearance – their faces are identical except for one detail. In ‘The Oven Man’, an old woman in the village constantly plays tricks on or spreads rumours about her neighbours, reprehensible behaviour that leads three men to set out one night to teach her a lesson that goes badly wrong. In ‘The She-Wolf’, a dandy who has never done a proper day’s work in his life and who devotes himself to hunting and the pursuit of pleasure fails to fulfil a promise he has made, thereby provoking the injured party’s fury and bringing down unfortunate consequences for all concerned. And in ‘Happy Death Day’, a man receives cards, letters and other gifts in celebration not of the day he was born, but of the day he will die. He does everything in his power to escape this destiny before seemingly accepting his fate and succumbing to the inevitable. When There’s a Knock on the Door at Night is a modern classic of Galician literature and received the Spanish National Book Award in 1995.

The ten stories in this magnificent collection “all talk of the importance of love, that feeling that can transform us more deeply than any other, and also of its absence, the void it leaves in people when the twists and turns of life make it impossible.” So the author, Agustín Fernández Paz, writes in his afterword. A banker who, bored of the company of other directors, frequents a bookshop and is introduced to works she has never read before; a young man who falls in love with the daughter of the owner of the garage where he works; a man and a dog who continue to seek out the company of the Woman he loved; a couple who endure a freak accident, but only one survives; a woman who recalls her first, anxious physical contact with her boyfriend; a man who is proud of his collection of matchboxes; another who finds passport photos of the woman of his dreams on the pavement; the country house and its long-kept secrets; a woman whose life could have been so different had she followed the inclinations of her heart; and the man who comes up with the ingenious idea of advertising not services, but the openings of books that have transformed his life. There is in this work an analysis of the power of love over our lives, love that is requited and love that is left behind. There is also, as the author points out, a celebration of the positive impact that reading can have in our lives. Nothing Really Matters in Life More Than Love received the 2008 Spanish National Book Award and is beautifully illustrated in colour by Pablo Auladell.

Einés Andrade is a doctoral student whose studies center on the figure of the French philosopher René Descartes. But when she is only seven or eight, she is sent to the attic for calling her great-grandmother a monkey, and there she discovers a hutch, a large chest, from which emanate the scents of various herbs and fruits. She also discovers private papers belonging to Queen Christina of Sweden and a certain Hélène Jans, a herbalist and healer of Amsterdam. Digging deeper, she discovers that the two women shared a common passion. In 1649, Christina of Sweden invited Descartes to her court to give her lessons in philosophy, but he was reputed to have caught pneumonia and died in February, 1650. Before that, he had an affair—only once, as he claimed—with the maid of the bookseller in whose house he was staying in Amsterdam, Hélène Jans. She became pregnant and gave birth to their daughter, Francine, who died at the age of five in 1640. Fifteen years later, Queen Christina and Hélène meet to exchange impressions and ease their nostalgia. They strike up a correspondence in which Christina urges Hélène to continue her work on an artificial language. Hélène also puts together a recipe book, called Book of Women, in which she gives various remedies that can be used to alleviate pain in childbirth, to improve one’s appearance, to attract a lover… Before she dies, she hands down her knowledge, the recipe book and her private papers, to her adopted daughter, Agnes, a distant ancestor of Einés’s. Einés decides to abandon all research on rationalism and to devote her time to writing an account of these women whom Time has forgotten.

In order for Dragal to come back to life, possibly at the expense of Hadrián’s humanity, the descendants of the original seven knights must meet in the dragon’s crypt at midnight on the first full moon of the spring equinox, which coincides with Easter night. They must have the keys of the Secret Science with them: the parchment that stands for Wisdom, the master crystal that signifies Strength, and the alchemical egg that represents the dragon’s Secret. The parish priest, Don Xurxo, and the policeman who investigated Hadrián’s previous disappearance, Cortiñas, are considered to be two knights, but even counting Hadrián and Hadrián’s mother, that still leaves another three knights that will have to be convened if the Dragon’s Fraternity is to be complete and successfully fulfil the prophecy about the dragon’s child regaining the power wrested from its father and releasing the telluric forces. Perhaps the fire at St Peter’s, which has destroyed much of the inside of the church, will act as a magnet, attracting the other members of the fraternity and enabling the ritual to be carried out. But with services for Holy Week transferred to the sports pavilion, and a nosy bishop, the race is on to reach the dragon’s crypt in time.

It is several years since the events of Brother of the Wind, the prequel to Flower of Sand, and Amrah, the daughter of the mayor of Qhissa Hanni in the mountains of north Iraq, has adapted to her new life in Kirkuk. Her father has gone from being mayor of a small village to becoming a pivotal figure in the oil business, an intermediary between foreign corporations and local companies, and an aspiring politician. He has betrothed his daughter to his business partner, the governing judge Jemaa Lefta. Amrah, however, has not forgotten her childhood sweetheart, Khaled, or her wish to study architecture at university and design buildings in the new Iraq. Her studies bring her into contact with a local resistance leader, Haytham al-Taleb, and when her father falsely accuses her mother of adultery and divorces her, she agrees to provide Haytham with information about his business activities. Her involvement with the resistance will go much further than that, however, taking her down a road she would never have imagined, and ultimately salvation will take the form of the most unexpected person in her life.

Khaled is an Iraqi boy, a member of the Koblai tribe, growing up in the village of Qhissa Hanni in the mountains of north Iraq. He has left school to look after his family’s flock of sheep, but his father and the local schoolteacher think he has the makings of a writer, so they give him a notebook in which he records his aspirations, events in the village, the life of his family, his wish to own a horse which he will call ‘Ahu al-Rih’ or ‘Brother of the Wind’, his secret engagement to the mayor’s daughter, Amrah, so secret that even she doesn’t know about it, the time when he and a friend go frog hunting and slip a couple of frogs into the midwife’s bag, causing havoc when the midwife is due to assist in the birth of Ilaisha’s son… The book is presented as a series of letters which Khaled writes to the son of a European archaeologist, Dr Meira, nicknamed ‘Al-Galego’, who has taken up residence in the village in order to pursue his archaeological studies and because he has grown fond of the Iraqi way of life. But the invasion of the country in 2003 by the United States and its allies casts a heavy shadow over this remote village and its inhabitants, who struggle to come to terms with the issues that are at stake and who will have to draw on all their reserves of courage and strength if they are to survive. The war will bring tragedy to the village and will force Khaled to undertake a journey he has never imagined before, to the heart of the country’s capital, Baghdad. This is a journey of principle, of courage over fear, of faith and friendship, of self-sacrifice, that will change Khaled’s expectations forever.

A young woman, who has left Galicia to go and study marine biology in Mexico (Baja California), is recalled to Galicia when it is found out that her mother is very sick. Her aunt would like her to sign some papers agreeing to take over the family business and renouncing her Mexican studies and emotional ties that she has forged in her new life. However, returning to Galicia and renewing her family ties is not exactly what the woman wants. Her mother has shut herself in her room for the last year, and relations between them have always been strained. She received more affection from a nanny, Felisa, and better advice from her uncle, Cándido. There is also an older brother, Ramón, a larger-than-life figure who has left an indelible mark in the lives of those around him, and an absent father. Will the woman’s visit to see her sick mother turn out to be permanent, and will it soothe any of the festering wounds in her psyche, wounds that she has buried beneath her marine studies and a relationship with her one-time tutor? That’s How Whales Are Born is a return to our origins, a search into the usefulness of stirring up past memories and seeking reconciliation.

Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, The Book of Imaginary Journeys by Xabier P. DoCampo follows in the tradition of great travel literature that began with Homer’s Odyssey. It purports to be the transcription of two travel journals written by a certain X.B.R., in which the Traveller gives as objective a description as he can of the cities and kingdoms he visits. So it is he comes to a city you can only visit for three days or where you cannot fall asleep, a city balanced on the fine point of a diamond or rotating on a water wheel, a city whose inhabitants are all tree-dwelling women or descended from birds, a city where the tombstones are inscribed not with the names of the deceased but with the titles of their favourite books, a city where money is only valid for a year, where none of its inhabitants can go fishing because all the rods have been turned into soldiers’ lances, whose ministers are made to wear nooses as a warning to stay clean… The Traveller records songs, proverbs and remedies he hears along the way and describes some of the people he meets – a woman who conducts imaginary orchestras, a man who loves the earth so much he would like to plough it with a pair of unicorns, another searching for a treasure guarded by seven keys… Like translation, travel is a return to the source, the point of departure. What the Traveller takes away from the experience is what he has learned.

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