September 23, 2020

‘Journey to the South’, the lost book of Juan Mars – La Provincia

Little was known of a work that Juan Marsé wrote between 1962 and 1963 commissioned by Ruedo Ibérico, the mythical publishing house founded by exiled Republicans that maintained the irredentist flame and the hope of a democratic Spain publishing books in Castilian as necessary as’The Spanish Civil War ‘by Hugh Thomas and’ The Spanish Labyrinth ‘by Gerald Brenan, that clandestinely crossed the border and the Spanish booksellers sold under the counter. ‘Journey to the south’ (which is now published with premiere honors in Lumen and will be in bookstores this Thursday) was forged in the stay that Marsé made in Paris, where he was sent by his friends, Carlos Barral and Jaime Gil de Biedma, so that the working-class writer -an exotic animal for the Bocaccio fauna- would be impregnated with European culture. There they asked him a chronicle that should reflect real Spain in contrast to the one spread by the highly mediated Francoist press. The place to be portrayed was Andalusia, a reductionist symbol of everything Spanish at that time, where years before Juan Goytisolo had been inspired (in Almería) for his ‘Campos de Níjar’.

The work, which it was never published, it was lost and Marsé himself did not have a clear memory of its quality. Ruedo Ibérico, which despite its successes caused many financial problems, received the original, which ended up forgotten in a drawer. There were several unsuccessful efforts to recover it, such as the visit of the agent Carmen Balcells to the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, an entity that ended up buying the funds from Ruedo Ibérico. It seemed not to be there. Then, in 2012, Josep Maria Cuenca, author of the author’s excellent biography, found an outline of the cursed book that the editor Andreu Jaume set out to prepare for editing.

Manolo Reyes, the Pijoaparte

It was then that Marsé extracted the definitive clue from his memory: Pepe Martínez, the volatile editor of Ruedo Ibérico wanted to change the title to -horror! ‘Andalusia, mon amour’. So a manuscript from that archive called ‘Andalusia, lost love’ by a certain Manolo Reyes, could illuminate the case. And not just light it up. Was exactly the manuscript that Marsé had sent under the pseudonym Manolo Reyes, which is none other than the real name of a charnego from Carmel who fell in love with a good girl and whom his friends knew as Preppy. “Marsé did not remember having sent it under a pseudonym – Andreu Jaume says – and he was amused that that was the chosen name“And it is that at the same time that he was writing this chronicle, the novel that would catapult him also began to walk very slowly: ‘Last Afternoons with Teresa.”

An image of poverty in El Zapal, a neighborhood of Barbate / ALBERT GUSPI

So almost 60 years after writing it, Marsé faced a forgotten text, read it, liked it and was very excited about its appearance. “She was on editing the book to the end. Even. at the hospital he contacted me to give me a couple of details“says its editor.

‘Journey to the South’ has nothing to do with anything Marsé has ever written. Then he was 29 years old, he had just said goodbye to his job in the jewelry workshop where he had been employed since he was 15 and had made the decision to dedicate himself to writing. The trip was made with Antonio Pérez, an art collector he met in Paris, and with photojournalist Albert Guspi, which came to capture about 100 images that also and not without problems he managed to find Andreu Jaume in the Dutch institute. “The photographs are very valuable and very dangerous because then they couldn’t be released freely in public spaces. Throughout the book, recurrently Marsé, realizes how Guspi takes out his camera and the civil guard forces him to holster it or ask them for official permits. “

Slums and developmentalism

On September 29, 1962, the trio reached Seville, the first station of a journey that will continue through various cities and towns such as Jeréz, Sanlúcar, El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz, Rota, Torremolinos and Marbella, until reaching Malaga on October 26. In Ronda they meet Miguel Fernández Galán, whom everyone calls El Chato, a 16-year-old occasional tourist guide who will end up lending some biographical traits to Pijoaparte, such as being born in the palace of the Marquis of Salvatierra and having worked as a porter.

Marsé’s idea was to contrast what he saw: extreme misery in many cases as in Barbate (then Barbate de Franco) where El Zapal was located, “one of the most miserable shows in the Andalusian shantytown”; the insulting wealth of Torremolinos, or the incipient cosmopolitanism – “Americans, we welcome you with joy” – from the base of Rota. Against this, he also opposed headlines of the moment that warned the presence of “all the countries of the world” to the Second Vatican Council except the perfidious communists or predicted a better Spanish economic future for the sake of the incipient developmentalism. “That laid the groundwork for arrival of tourism and for foreign investment to enter. So that all Spaniards would get ready to live what Jaime Gil de Biedma defined as a ‘sordid prosperity’ “, says Jaume.

The tourist and the donkeys, an image of a Spain in transition. / ALBERT GUSPI

Without hope

Why didn’t Pepe Martínez, editor of Ruedo Ibérico, dare to publish this book? Marsé was convinced that it was for financial reasons, but the truth is that the publishing house continued until 1982. The publisher has his own theory: “I have the suspicion that the text did not seem to him sufficiently committed, and yes too literary“And it is that Marsé had had a very brief and not too rigorous communist militancy.” He did not even receive the card, despite the fact that Jorge Semprún told him that he would send it to him. “In many letters, the writer expressed his reluctance to face the Parisian militants, convinced that the fall of the dictatorship was imminent. “In 62, many exiles believed that the Francoists were packing their bags. That did not match the version of Marsé, who did live in the country and verified that the maximum aspiration of Spanish workers at that time was to take vacations, buy a 600 and be left alone“This work is impregnated with that hard and realistic pessimism, the seed of the sad atmosphere that surrounds Teresa and El Pijoaparte, with illusions reduced to nothing.

Some more posthumous papers

Juan Marsé had time to put his papers in order before he died last July. Not only was he able to edit this lost book but he also corrected a diary that he kept in 2004 for a year. He was fine-tuning it the last months of his life and is the answer to what journalists asked him so many times: When will his memoirs be ? The diary, which is possibly entitled ‘Notes for an autobiography that I will never write’, has a clearly Marian irony. It is to be hoped that the most intimate of the suspicious writer is found in those pages. In addition, the publisher Club Editor promises a Catalan version of ‘That distinguished whore’. ‘Aquesta so distinguished whore’ will have a translation by Martí Sales and it will be the first time that the author is translated into his mother tongue, because he always wrote in Spanish.


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