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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 386

Camilo José Cela’s 1950 novel is set in Spain in the early years of the Franco regime, when the country is mired in poverty just after the Civil War. Martín Marco, the protagonist, is a disillusioned, dissipated freelance writer who cannot earn a living because of the general poverty and his past support for the Republicans. Although he has not abandoned his liberal thinking and concern for the class struggle, Martín has largely shelved politics in favor of survival. He lives mostly by frequenting Madrid’s bars and brothels and freeloading off his friends and family, even staying rent-free with his friend Pablo.

The novel follows Martín for a few days as he wanders through the city. Ejected from a cafe one night for not paying his bill, he traverses the city seeking friends who can lend him money and then drinks it away. Among the characters he encounters are his sister, Filo, at whose home he stops to eat; his friend Pablo who is equally obsessed with news; and an old friend La Uruguaya, who is with a client. After having a drink with them, the police stop him in the red light district but find his papers sufficiently in order and so do not detain him. He spends the night in a brothel with a different prostitute/friend.

The next day, Martín’s meanderings resume as he contemplates finding work. In sequence, he runs into two more friends, Ventura and Nat, both of whom lend him money. Planning to buy Nati a gift, he heads for a bookstore but gets delayed having a drink in the café out of which he had been thrown yesterday. There he spends some of the money on drink and loses the rest.

The story picks up several days later, with Martin leaving Pablo’s house and heading for the cemetery to visit his mother’s grave. His friends go looking for him, as they became concerned after finding a newspaper article that he seems to have written and which could put him in trouble with the censors. They are torn about hiding him in Madrid or sending him to what they hope is safety in Barcelona. Martin, who seems oblivious to the threat, plans to look in the newspaper at the employment wanted ads.

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