The Birds of Baden-Baden, by Ignacio Aldecoa

Ignacio Aldecoa has a surprisingly long entry on English Wikipedia – for someone who has only one book available in English, and that by the obscure publishing arm of Iberia Airways (a favourite publisher of Obooki’s). He belonged to the Generación del 50 novelists, and seems largely to have based in Madrid.

Wikipedia claims he is a neorealist – or at least started out as such – but The Birds of Baden-Baden doesn’t really bear this out. It is a collection of four novellas (I am not entirely sure if it’s the same collection published under that name in Spain in 1965), each about 50 pages in length. The first and last stories I found the least interesting: they are fairly ordinary accounts of relations between men and women, told more from the woman’s point of view – the first, in its building up of a society through many characters reminded me a lot of Camilo José Cela’s The Hive. He is very good is Aldecoa as setting his stories in backgrounds. The middle two stories I enjoyed far more.

The second story is about a group of interfering old women, forever gossiping and spying into the lives of society around them, to the extent that they are in effect operating in the place of the police force and judicial system. They deduce crime from the the close observation of people’s behaviour, either from their window (since they do not go out) or through the reports of one of their sons, who is forty and still lives at home. One imagines it as a depiction of Francoist Spain – or indeed any totalitarian regime which seeks to get its citizens to spy on each other.

The third story is about a quite different Spain: the world of sun and sex in the south, the world of Spain opened up tourism (as despised at length in the works of fellow Generation 50 writer, Juan Goytisolo). It revolves about a group of young predatory males (called variously Baron Samedi, the King, the Marquis of the North and the Marquis of the South etc), whose only interest in life is sleeping with women. But it is manner of the telling which is in its favour: hard to explain, the whole is recounted as if these individuals were kings and princes, monarchs ever competing against one another.

These two stories are highly recommended, if you can track down a copy. There is more Aldecoa available unsurprisingly in French.

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2 thoughts on “The Birds of Baden-Baden, by Ignacio Aldecoa

  1. I believe this title is on another Ignacio’s best Spanish language books since 1950, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now. Whatever, it’s nice to see a review of Aldecoa in English at last. The two novellas you singled out for mention sound pretty great, but I also like the sound of that less successful story because you compared it to Cela’s The Hive which I liked a lot but was too lazy to review (I think laziness must be my theme today).

  2. I suppose it may be the case that this is the first ever review of Aldecoa in English (though I doubt it). As I was trying to get across, Aldecoa has a nice way of building up the background to his stories: like The Hive, that story begins in a cafe in Madrid, following the perceptions of various different patrons; unlike The Hive, it remains there. I liked The Hive a lot too (having disliked Pascual Duarte) and also didn’t write a review of it. I have another Cela book on my pile for this month, but can’t imagine I’ll get round to it.

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