Juan Goytisolo (goy-tee-SOH-loh) is generally considered the greatest modern Spanish novelist. Unquestionably, he is Spain’s best-known and most acclaimed contemporary writer worldwide. Born in Barcelona on January 5, 1931, Goytisolo was an early witness to the cruelty and terrors of war. Catalonia was one of the strongholds of Loyalist resistance during the Spanish Civil War, and Goytisolo’s mother was killed in the Nationalist bombardment of its capital. After her death, the family fled the city and did not return until after the war. Ironically, Goytisolo’s parents had been strong supporters of Francisco Franco.
Goytisolo’s sympathies lay in the opposite direction. He and his brother Luis, also a prominent novelist, soon were labeled as leftist radicals by Franco’s police. At first, Juan studied law at the Universities of Madrid and Barcelona, but he abandoned the field to concentrate on his literary career. After the war, a new generation of writers such as Carmen Laforet Díaz, Ana María Matute, and Camilo José Cela, reacting against the perceived elitism and triviality of the prewar Spanish novel, desired to anchor the new narrative in a precise and painstaking description of social reality. Goytisolo, one of the founders of the important Turia literary group, was their spokesperson. His first two novels, The Young Assassins and Children of Chaos, are prime examples of the new realism. In both books, the plot centers on groups marked by the civil war and its aftermath. In The Young Assassins, spoiled adolescents try to rid themselves of their ennui by murdering a politician; in Children of Chaos, refugee children, playing among the carnage and destruction of war and inured to the suffering around them, try to imitate the actions of their elders. Neither group receives any sympathy from the reporter-like narrator, whose task is not to comment on events but simply to describe. Nevertheless, the narration cannot be called completely objective because of the cumulative effect of the carefully selected events and conversations. The net result is a relentless condemnation of Spanish society.
Goytisolo first placed his work in the objectivist school of Alain Robbe-Grillet, and he continued in this mold until 1963. Island of Women is perhaps the extreme example of this objectivist phase of Goytisolo’s technique. The Spaniard, however, disagreed with his French mentor in one crucial area. For Goytisolo, the very essence of the novel was its social and political implications. He could not accept a dispassionate, impartial depiction of reality. In any case, as Goytisolo insisted, given that any word could be considered threatening...
(The entire section is 1105 words.)