The Zúñiga century begins. The Spanish writer who has dedicated more time and imagination to the greatest Spanish scar of the 20th century, the Civil War seen with Madrid as the protagonist, will turn 100 on January 24, 2019.
For years, neither in conversation nor in the lapels of his books, most of them stories in which he reflected the blood and uncertainty caused by the war in the city where he was born, spoke Juan Eduardo Zúñiga of his age. Out of modesty, although he also granted the omission a certain dose of coquetry, this man who was declared useless for war by the doctors of that time maintained a ghostly silence about his years. A silence that, now, age and health seem to have become irreversible: it no longer grants interviews.
However, this past spring, through his wife, the also writer and editor Happiness Orquín, he said in the Madrid Book Fair that date, on January 24, 2019, was going to be, in effect, that of her 100th birthday. Orquín, a privileged reader of her husband, said of Zúñiga that he was a writer who was chasing ghosts … The ghosts, came to say Orquín, they do not have present but yes future. Perhaps, then, he wanted to be a ghost of himself and now he has been living for some years in the future that sought his writing that broke successively with all the literary conventions that came his way. He was harassed by his generation colleagues, and ranks (he was, from 1958 to 1964, member of the PCE), for not strictly following the dictates of social-realism, and he premiered to the most popular literature with Coral and waters (1962). Located in the back row of everything, for his character and for his withdrawal, he was nevertheless the first to break with the discipline of the party and also with the literary discipline, for which he was vilified and besieged to silence.
He wanted to be a republican soldier but was declared useless. His first novel was born from that fact
He wanted to be a republican soldier, but the doctors declared him useless, and in 1951 he gave the printing press, at his own cost, a book (Total useless) in which he appears as Cosme, a boy who can not join the war front. Angeles Encinar, professor of Literature at the North American University of Saint Louis and studious of the work of Zúñiga, sees in that useless young man the tall and ungainly figure, of powerful lenses, that would be forever the features of the author of Capital of glory. Luis Beltrán, Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Zaragoza, who with Encinar preparesa reedition (in the Cátedra publishing house) of Coral and waters and Total useless, He sees the writer Zúñiga, in effect, "in the back row of everything", but stealthily advancing towards the avant-garde.
And to her it arrives in 1980, after the silence that imposed to him the tacit rupture with its partners of letters and, in a while, of ideas. The trilogy of civil war, composed by 'Largo november de Madrid' (1980), 'The earth will be a paradise' (1989) and 'Capital of glory' (2003), it would be the outstanding example of its way of conceiving literature and, above all, the reality that he himself lived in the Madrid of the war.
Beltrán believes that Zúñiga was served in those capital books of his own personal experience, but also of his way of conceiving literature. Heir of Turgeneyev and of Pushkin, to whom he dedicated translations and books, "filtered the memories with his own concept of the management of the imagination" and approached, "with a literary sieve, his own autobiography". This is the Cosme de Total useless, "Like a child who looks", and is the one who contemplates the devastation, the wounded mud in which his beloved city becomes.
He was a militant of the communist party but never followed the dictates of socialist realism
That high literature is a rematch, surely not properly imposed, against those who had condemned him for The coral and the waters, suggests Encinar. "They awarded him the reputation of being a difficult writer, and he excelled many years later with a metaphorical realism that serves as a mirror to what was happening on the Madrid front." It was, so to speak, a renewed realism in which "the point of view of the vanquished" stands out. And they were not the great human prototypes, say both Encinar and Beltrán, those who serve him for his metaphor about mud and the fury of war. They were, as in their beloved Russian authors, the strong women, the weak or useless men, the humble houses, the mothers, the vanquished those who serve as the stage for a literature that, as Felicidad Orquín warns, will progress beyond their own existence of Zúñiga. He made Madrid, considers Encinar, "the city protagonist of the war, as if the city itself was a character". And that, they say, also inherits it from the Russians who made Moscow and St. Petersburg characters alive from their writings.
Zúñiga has been meticulous and slow, but he was not writing only stories or novels; He was making a literary building whose inhabitants, says Beltrán, "were the figures, the archetypes, like the useless man popularized by Slavic philology, who is modern man in front of women, the active element that makes society advance or rebellion. "
In Capital of glory, above all, there are some of those women. For example, Rosa de Madrid, a young woman who, in the midst of the detritus of war, shows the gestures of desire and confronts them as a dramatic or sensual counterpoint to the miseries of one's own struggle. It could have been, accepts Encinar, a text for a film written by Rafael Azcona, that black and white of Spain that continued broken during the long postwar period.
"He is the great writer of citizenship in the face of the militarization of space," says Longares
With respect to that fundamental story in the writing of Zúñiga, a great connoisseur of his and his literature, Manuel Longares, author himself Romanticism, He says:"Rosa from Madrid it is first of all a chotis. Zúñiga has chosen that popular music to highlight the difference that all contemporaries of that time and their descendants have to suffer when contrasting the dissipation marked by the chotis and the other of bombings, denunciations and murders ". In this story, Longares continues, "Zúñiga takes all Madrid's topics and projects them as the idyll of a distant and crushed life: the figure and legend of the modistilla subjected to the harshness of the war, awakening in it the corresponding howl to have turned into a beast that in the distant years of peace was a rose. "
Zúñiga is, underlines Longares, and in that same line are the other experts in his work, "the writer of the vanquished, but more than those defeated by a war and belonging to a certain political affiliation is the writer of citizenship against the militarization of space ". Madrid destroyed by the war, military territory that was home and "routine spell". That story, among others, represents the soul of Zúñiga's writing, a strange ghost of his own city, his house broken before his eyes, also wounded by the useless casing of the struggle.
In the last act that Juan Eduardo Zúñiga starred in this city of his, in the last Retiro Book Fair, near where he lives, his friend and reader Luis Mateo Díez He said that this trilogy "will one day be the true literary expression of the Spanish civil war." As a writer that is, said the academic, what is touched in his writing is the man who contains it. "The man. And especially women ", Encinar adds now, because women are the ones who handle the force of life in their books. "They will discover it, they will rediscover it. They will discover their sensuality, the freedom of their women. " And, says Beltrán, "they will discover their prose, and they will see that it is not what their critics said in their time. They will discover their archetypes, their metaphors. " And then Zúñiga will live, at least, another century, or more centuries, who knows. For the moment, he, like that total useless Cosme, looks at the Retreat that is his landscape, his ghost and his future.
Almost centennial. Juan Eduardo Zúñiga was born in Madrid on January 24, 1919. His father, a pharmacist, had Ramón J. Sender as his assistant.
Useless ma non troppo. In 1939 he was mobilized within the so-called "fifth of 40", formed by discarded recruits to go to the front for his disability.
Translator and essayist. In 1944 he translated, together with Teodoro Neicov, the novel by the Bulgarian writer Iordan Iovkof The Reaper. The interest in Slavic literatures will be a constant in his work, which will have its fruits in essays such as The impossible affects of Iván Turguéniev (1977) or The ring of Pushkin (1983), gathered in 2010 in the volume From the snowy forests.
Novelist (brief). In January of 1949 he published his first story in the magazineInsula. Two years later, in February 1951, he self-published Total useless, a short novel – 61 pages in pocket format – that emerged as part of the Café del Lisboa social gathering. He never reissued it. The Cátedra publisher will rescue her in the coming weeks with her second novel, The coral and the waters, Set in classical Greece and originally published in 1962.
Romantic and committed. On behalf of the publishing house Taurus, in 1967 publishes a compilation of the social articles of Mariano Jose de Larra, author who considers a pioneer of the committed literature and who in 1999 will consecrate the book of fiction Lead flowers
Total storyteller. After years of creative silence, 1980 is key in his work: Bruguera publishes Long November of Madrid, a volume of stories that, together with The earth will be a paradise (Alfaguara, 1989) and Capital of glory (Alfaguara, 2003), Zúñiga will meet in 2011 in a volume of Gutenberg Galaxia entitled The trilogy of the civil war.
Consecrated. The 1987 National Translation Prize for his version of the prose of Antero de Quental was added in 2004 to the Crítica por Capital of glory. In 2016 he received the National Prize of Literature for his work as a whole.