Although he has received many awards for his lyrical work in spain since 2002, it was his debut novel that brought him recognition from the general public, praise in the most important newspapers in his country in 2018, and the prix femina for the best foreign novel in france in 2019. But a novel is "the journey to ordesa" not really, nor is it a typical autobiography of a well-known personage. For manuel vilas, who before his transformation into a lyricist led the rather monotonous life of a teacher for two decades, had not yet made a "name" for himself in public made. Nor is it a chronological account of his personal and professional development, but rather a seemingly disorganized collection of many scraps of memories of parents, grandparents and other deceased persons.
Much seems familiar
Only gradually does everything come together from chapter to chapter to form a picture with many interesting facets full of life experience. Some readers may therefore find it difficult to get into the book. But it is worthwhile to stay tuned. For it is precisely the self-proclaimed insignificance of the author, who was born into a poor, underprivileged family of a provincial salesman in 1962 during the franco dictatorship, and his memories of childhood that make him and his life story so "human" and become universal. Much seems familiar to us.
During the lecture, the author is formally seen as a "poor poet", who, as a dry alcoholic, has also had to experience the depths of life, sits in his sparsely furnished high-rise apartment – alone with himself and his thoughts, abandoned by his deceased parents, divorced from his wife and hardly in contact with his two adult sons – and indulges in his memories from five decades ago.
In short chapters, starting from a single detail, a thought or a childhood experience, vilas develops an often surprising chain of thoughts about the meaning of life and death, about his ancestors unknown to him ("my grandfather was an abandoned burial niche."), about himself and his sons, about the then dictatorial and now monarchist spain, and again and again about his beloved parents.
In the recollection, questions come up that vilas should have asked earlier. "I didn’t ask them when I could because I thought I would eventually ask them, as if they would always be there."
Without any protection
His ancestors are forgotten, the memory of his parents fades away. The lonely author is afraid of being forgotten by his own sons in the foreseeable future. Therefore, his conclusion: "we should write about our families, without any humiliation, without inventing anything. We should only report what has happened, or what we believe has happened." Manuel vilas’ prose work "the journey to ordesa" is a powerful, philosophically and psychologically profound examination of his family, a literary journey of discovery to himself, to an unusual and fascinating reading experience, in which the translator astrid roth has undoubtedly also played a commendable role. This and other reviews can also be found on facebook on the book review page.