Juan Goytisolo 1931-
Spanish novelist, short story writer, essayist, autobiographer, and travel writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Goytisolo's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 5, 10, and 23.
Juan Goytisolo is a Spanish writer who has spent the majority of his career in exile due to his opposition to the regime of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Despite his expatriation, Goytisolo is generally considered the best Spanish novelist of his generation. Primarily known as a practitioner of experimental fiction, Goytisolo usually eschews formal story lines and encompasses a variety of political and critical theories in his writings.
Goytisolo was born in 1931, the son of a wealthy Spanish merchant. His mother died in 1938 when Mussolini's bombs fell on Barcelona. His mother's death began his family's disintegration, which continued throughout the Spanish Civil War and under Franco's dictatorship. Another defining experience of Goytisolo's youth was his grandfather's molestation of him. Goytisolo helped to create the Turin group of writers in Barcelona, but eventually became a victim of censorship. In 1956 he fled Franco's regime for Paris, where he began his career as a self-ostracized writer. He split his time between France and Morocco, which expanded his interest in other cultures. He later expressed this fascination by including multicultural themes and international sources in his work.
Goytisolo's novel Reivindicación del Conde Don Julián (1970; Count Julian) is a story of exile. The protagonist is exiled from his homeland and lives in Tangier. He travels through a drug-induced fantasy in which his story merges with that of Count Julian, the legendary Spanish traitor. By linking his story to Count Julian's, the protagonist is able to obtain revenge on Spain, the country that cast him out, by destroying its literature, religion, cultural beliefs, myths, and language. In the semiautobiographical novel Paisajes después de la batalla (1982; Landscapes after the Battle), the residents of Le Sentier, an unfashionable quarter of Paris where Goytisolo resided, wake up one morning to find their walls covered with mysterious graffiti and all their street signs written in Arabic; their European city has suddenly been taken over by foreigners. The novel traces the city's past, present, and future as it emerges from the chaos. La cuarentena (1994; Quarantine) is a novel that combines first-, second-, and third-person narration to recount the story of a newly departed soul as it wanders the earth. The story is based on the Islamic belief that a soul wanders the earth for forty days in the interim between life and death. The main narrator is writing the novel at the same time it is being read; he moves between the real world and the dreamlike world of his departed friend as he explores issues of war, the human condition, and identity. In addition to his fiction, Goytisolo wrote a two-volume autobiography beginning with Coto vedado (1985; Forbidden Territory), which tells the story of his first 25 years, including his family's loss of wealth under Franco and his own difficult losses during childhood. Goytisolo followed Forbidden Territory with the second autobiographical volume, En los reinos de taifa (1986; Realms of Strife), which describes Goytisolo's life in exile, during which he lived in Paris and Marrakech. It is in this volume that Goytisolo discusses the years he lived as a heterosexual and his eventual acceptance of his homosexuality.
Reviewers often point to the intertextuality of Goytisolo's writings. In discussing Goytisolo's narrative-lifting of divergent sources, Robert Kiely states, “This is not to say Mr. Goytisolo borrows because of a lack of imagination. It is his originality to borrow in such a way that his patchwork antihero, like his patchwork narrative and language, is presented as a provocation.” Goytisolo's use of the “Little Red Riding Hood” episode in Count Julian is frequently analyzed by critics; many noting the Freudian underpinnings of Goytisolo's reworking of the oft told story. Reviewers assert that Goytisolo's work opposes traditional language, history, and culture, preferring chaos instead. Tom Whalen asserts, “His works scream out against the language of oppression, wherever it is found.” Although most critics agree that Goytisolo rejects traditional literature and culture, they do note his appreciation for lesser known “sub-literature” of the past, which remains unrecognized by many readers. Amanda Hopkinson states, “Goytisolo works as a vast integrating literary force—but also as a great storyteller with an appreciation of those who have gone before.”