Return to Región
In the preface to the 1974 edition in Spanish of Return to Región (published originally as Volverás a Región, 1967), Juan Benet explains that in 1951 he began a novel about a mythical guardian of a forbidden forest, which he rewrote in the years from 1962 to 1964 as an elaboration of three separate narratives—the myth of the guardian, a fictional history of the development and consequences of the Spanish civil war in a remote community, and the story of a frustrated marriage in the mountains of Northern Spain. When Benet received a rejection notice from a publisher indicating that the novel lacked the material most attractive to contemporary readers—sufficient dialogue—he intransigently set about revising his text by eliminating much of the dialogue from the manuscript. In 1967, two years after Benet’s fifth rewriting of the material, the novel was finally published by Ediciones Destino.
Return to Región is a complex, difficult novel, rendered into English by Gregory Rabassa, a translator of consummate skill who has produced excellent translations of many Spanish and Latin American novels, including Benet’s Una meditación (1978; A Meditation, 1982). Benet had to sacrifice many “insolences” and “impertinences” to make Return to Región acceptable to the publishers. After his success, he was able to preserve the integrity of his manuscripts, as is evident in the novels that follow Return to Región. A Meditation is considerably more complex than the first novel, as are Un viaje de invierno (1972; a winter journey) and La otra casa de Mazón (1973; the other house of Mazón). These later novels are genuinely “insolent” and “impertinent” in the context of the neorealism of Spanish fiction in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Benet wrote A Meditation on a long, continuous roll of paper, without paragraphs, chapters, or periods. Sentences go on for pages, filled with parentheses within parentheses and quotations within quotations. The punctuation is so chaotic that the text is decipherable only with considerable patience and determination.
Return to Región is somewhat more traditional in its narrative techniques, probably because of the strictures placed on the unknown novelist by the publishers. Even so, it is an extremely difficult novel that marked a significant change in the direction of Spanish fiction in the 1960’s. In spite of the more conservative linguistic structures of the text, the narrative constructs a kind of reality similar to that found in Benet’s later novels—a mythographic configuration of a world that operates according to its own rules. Benet’s fictional reality is an uncertain one, posited through the process of memory. The characters of Return to Región recall the past, analyze the remembered facts, evaluate the reconstructed events, and leave the reader with a potential, partial truth that is not entirely accessible or understandable.
Benet divides his novelistic text into four sections. The first is a description and history of Región, an isolated village in the mountains of Northern Spain, in a dense forest guarded by the mysterious, mythical figure of Numa, the unseen presence that preserves the peace of the area. The second, third, and fourth sections of the novel narrate the visit of Marré the Gamallo to the house where Dr. Daniel Sebastián lives in isolation, caring for a retarded man who was abandoned by his mother during the civil war. The last three sections of the novel are devoted almost entirely to the spoken words of Marré Gamallo and Sebastián. It soon becomes evident, however, that these two characters are not engaged in a dialogue; rather, each is delivering a monologue not necessarily directed at the other. The purpose of the monologues—which at times become interiorized—is not communication but the re-creation of past experience through the act of recalling the events that established a relationship between the two characters, a relationship unknown to either of them until their meeting in Sebastián’s house.
The two primary voices in the novel—those of Marré Gamallo and Daniel Sebastián—together with the voice of the unnamed narrator and the comments of an...
(The entire section is 1753 words.)