four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-NadaCarmen Laforet (1921–2004) wrote the semiautobiographical Nada in her early 20s; published in her native Spain in 1944, it won the Nadal Prize. In spare diary form, Laforet chronicles the experiences of 18-year-old Andrea, a hopeful, self-involved young woman from a small town wishing to study literature at the university. When Andrea arrives at her grandmother’s apartment in post–Civil War Barcelona, she finds her environs squalid and the uncles, aunts, baby nephew, maid, and pets in turn contentious, manic, overbearing, violent, and bitter. Slowly, in a repressive household and an even more despotic political regime, Andrea grows sexually and emotionally—and finds hope in the future.
Modern Library. 244 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 0679643451

Sunday Herald [UK] 5 of 5 Stars
"What particularly impresses is the haunted atmosphere, the intensity of the paranoia and the unpredictability, and the Cinderella-eyed sensibility of its heroine. … But in truth Nada’s work is sui generis, a gothic horror story which deserves the widest possible readership." Alan Taylor

Independent [UK] 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It still surprises that this powerful, albeit implicit, indictment of Franco’s dictatorship got past the censors. At the time, it was seen as a sensationalist novel about violent, mad, abnormal people. … This is a modern voice, philosophically and stylistically, talking to us in freedom from the darkest hours of the victory of fascism." Michael Eaude

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This is a story of youth and nihilistic disenchantment, those familiar literary handmaidens of the mid-20th century. Nada does indeed recall Sartre and Camus, but it is fresher and more vibrant than either, and with its call to intuition and feelings rather than intellect, it cuts deeper." Richard Rayner

Irish Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The old grandmother emerges as the tragic heart of the book and could well have stepped from the pages of Lorca. The rest of the family belongs to the Deep South of Faulkner." Eileen Battersby

Sunday Telegraph [UK] 4 of 5 Stars
"In pages of precise, finely-tuned prose, Spain emerges as a country obsessed by death and religious sufferance. … Andrea, with her brazen self-exploration, is a marvellous creation." Ian Thomson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[This translation] makes available to readers here a coming-of-age novel that is far more mature and stylistically accomplished than the most famous American example of the genre, J. D. Salinger’s vastly overrated The Catcher in the Rye. … That this complex, mature and wise novel was written by someone in her early 20s is extraordinary." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

Nada is a novel of Spain—and of the difficult transition to adulthood. Critics agree that it is a remarkable achievement for so young a voice at the time and one of the best novels written during the Franco regime. Mario Vargas Llosa notes in his introduction that Nada never overtly refers to the Fascist victory, yet "politics weighs on the entire story like an ominous silence." Still, Andrea’s grim experiences—from navigating the bizarre terrain of her relatives to brokering friendships and sexual relationships—are far from humorless. Brilliant characterizations, poetic prose, and a clear and sophisticated voice ring true in Edith Grossman’s excellent translation. The Los Angeles Times sums up general sentiment: "Nada a coming-of-age novel, but it’s also a work of genius, small but indelible."