Obabakoak – Bernardo Atxaga (Part 1)


Obabakoak by Bernardo Atxaga

A volume of stories loosely tied together by their relationship to the tiny Basque town of Obaba and the themes of language and storytelling.  Good enough to read twice, once for fun, and the second time to suck out all the juicy literary marrow.  “One of only a hundred or so books originally written in the Basque language during the last four centuries.”

The first section is titled Childhoods, and the first short story:

Esteban Werfell

Esteban Werfell sit at his desk writing the twelfth volume of his memoirs, which he writes only for himself.  This time he is focusing on the end of his childhood in Obaba, his first love, and the choice he had to make between the parochial, Catholic values of his hometown and the bohemian secularism or his German-emigrant father.

About fathers and sons, religion and culture, lies and illusions.

Atxaga’s writing is clear and functional, adorned only by similes and truisms.  Skilled with storytelling conventions, he sometimes treads dangerously close to being formulaic, but mostly avoids this by greatly varying his subjects and style.  Without getting bogged down by being overly descriptive, he creates a strong sense of atmosphere, especially in the church scene.

Good weighting of the conflict between the father and the son.  Uses the good old trick of having the weather and environment reflect the character’s mental state to give some dynamism to a static scene of someone writing.  There’s also a neat twist at the end that adds some delicious moral ambiguity.

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