Marks of Identity, 1966

(Great Characters in Literature)

Álvaro Mendiola

Álvaro Mendiola (AHL-vah-roh mehn-dee-OH-lah), a heavy-drinking, thirty-two-year-old photographer and maker of documentary films, loosely based on the author. After a voluntary exile of ten years in France, he returns to Spain to reconstruct his past, which is bound up inextricably with contemporary Spanish history. His conflict in this journey is his conflict with Spain—he can feel his full identity only in Spain, where he was born and reared, but he cannot live there, tolerating a Fascist regime and a narrow-minded, self-righteous culture. From his childhood home, he revisits his life. He was a pious child who grew into a spiritually indifferent adult, the son of a fading hidalgo family with a now-dissolved colonial estate in Cuba. He matures slowly, goes to school, and becomes associated loosely with political radicalism. More a poet than an activist, he is depressed and alienated by totalitarian culture and eventually leaves Spain to live and work in France. There, he meets Dolores, who becomes his lover. In 1958, he releases a documentary on emigration from Spain, which is impounded by the Spanish Civil Guard, on the ground that it is “anti-Spanish.” Around this time, he experiences a fainting spell on a Paris street, the first indication of a heart condition that threatens his life and eventually prompts his return to Spain.

Antonio Ramírez Trueba

Antonio Ramírez Trueba (rah-MEE-rehs trew-EH-bah), a school friend of Álvaro, a Marxist law student who is arrested for having Communist sympathies and is imprisoned, then later kept under extended house arrest in his hometown. He functions as an alter ego to Álvaro.


Dolores, Álvaro’s lover, the daughter of émigrés living in Mexico. She meets Álvaro in Paris at a boardinghouse, where Álvaro, who is eavesdropping, learns that she is behind on her rent. He pays her rent, she finds out, and after an initial misunderstanding, they become lovers. She cares for him during his convalescence in Barcelona.