Sixty years after its original publication in Spain in 1944, Nada has been translated and published in English, bringing not only the coming-of-age story of one young girl but also the story of a country coming out of a civil war and into a fascist regime to a new audience. A longtime classic in Spain, Carmen Laforet’s Nada captured the void, the nothing (nada) that many Spaniards felt under Francisco Franco’s rule in the years immediately following the civil war (1936-1939) and hinted of the artistic revolution that was to occur by paralleling the struggles Spaniards experienced with the pain of an adolescent girl. Twenty-three-year-old Laforet wrote Nada in a style that is simultaneously calming and unnerving, that elicits pity and unease, as she shares the heartbreaking tale of eighteen-year-old protagonist Andrea. Nada begins with Andrea alone at a Barcelona train station after traveling to the city to attend a university. Orphaned as a child, Andrea has moved from relative to relative across Spain and travels to Barcelona to find an education, freedom, and herself. What she does not anticipate finding is a demented and depressing family waiting to welcome her, and potentially destroy her, with their dysfunctional structure.
The family is made up of the maternal grandmother matriarch, “a black-white blotch of a decrepit little old woman,” Andrea’s uncle Juan, whose “face was full of hollows, like a skull in the light of the single bulb in the lamp,” Juan’s baby and his wife, Gloria, who is “thin and young, her disheveled red hair falling over her sharp white face,” Andrea’s uncle Román, “with curly hair and an amiable, intelligent face,” and her Aunt Angustias, whose “expression revealed a certain contempt. She had graying hair that fell to her shoulders and a certain beauty in her dark, narrow face.” They inhabit an overcrowded apartment that Andrea’s grandparents purchased new. After the grandfather died, they divided their once-large flat into two, selling one half and forcing themselves and their possessions into the other. The result is a macabre environment, a gothic labyrinth filled with antiques and oppressive furniture precariously stacked and rich yet tattered curtains that keep the sun out and the dust thick. Andrea reflects on the factors that attracted her grandparents and herself to the city and muses, “They came to Barcelona with a hope contrary to the one that had brought me: They wanted rest, and secure, methodical work. The city I thought of as the great change in my life was their safe haven.” Barcelona more than changes Andrea’s life, it offers her one for the first time and serves as a sometimes emotionally painful backdrop for her rites of passage.
The apartment on Calle de Aribau becomes its own characterreserved, oppressive, and cold, reflecting the Franco regime, with its isolationist and oppressive control over its inhabitants. The dysfunction that occurs on Calle de Aribau is not limited to the mountains of possessions in various stages of disrepair but extends to the family members themselves. The grandmother is aware only of what she wishes through her dementia. Juan and Román fight nearly to the death regularly, Juan taking breaks only to beat Gloria, who supports the family by running an illegal gambling den out of her sister’s house and secretly selling off pieces of furniture to local ragmen. Aunt Angustias judges the other occupants with a puritanical strictness and attends church regularlynot to pray but to criticize how others are praying and dressing. Finally, the bitter maid Antonia, about whom Andrea remarks that “no other creature has ever made a more disagreeable impression on me,” is kind only to her dog Trueno and sneaks around the house taking pleasure in everyone’s pain. Andrea describes the bizarre human menagerie and their oppressive setting as “a thousand odors, sorrows, stories, rose from the paving stones, climbed to the balconies or entrances along Calle de Aribau . A mix of lives, qualities, and tastesthat’s what Calle de Aribau was. And I: one more element on it, small...
(The entire section is 1692 words.)