By Elena Medel
Translated by Lizzie Davis and Thomas Bunsted
For decades, Spain’s travel industry has excelled in what it calls “destination marketing.” The products on offer are country, photogenic fantasy of art and history, beaches and bullfights, flamenco dancers and musicians, wine and tapas. La Marca Espana’s Advertising Cliche’s Foreign Seagull Reel – Spain brand, an official promotional initiative launched by the Spanish government in the midst of the Great Depression – what the lives of millions of Spaniards really look like is unclear in many parts of the world.
Elena Medell’s first novel, “The Wonders,” stands correctly for this inequality. Spread from 1969 to 2018, the novel plunges readers into the daily humiliation of a country that has often struggled with stagnant wages and widespread suffering. Mercury (Unemployment), not to mention the legacy of Franco’s dictatorship. The story follows two blood-related women but separated by circumstances: Maria, who gave birth to an unmarried daughter in the late 1960s and had to leave her child and her hometown, Cordoba, to find work in Madrid; And Alicia, Maria’s granddaughter, whose life is no less insecure or harmed than that of her never-before-seen mother-grandmother. The lives of the two women are marked by suicide, prejudice, male labor, social instability, and widespread sadness, as these fragmented stories graze each other well without clicking on a fully formed picture. This is not a sunny trip to Ibiza, nor does it include the legendary Halo of La Alhambra.
Medellin, a leading literary voice in Spain, made a name for himself in the early days as a kind of eccentric. As a teenager, she published her first book of poetry for praise, then went on to write several collections, and founded the small press La Bella Versovia. His poetic sensibility is evident in the rhythmic, provocative prose translated by Lizzie Davis and Thomas Bunsted, but he also looks at the world through the magnifying glass of a good novelist. For example, at Madrid’s Atocha railway station, where Alicia works, she comments on “how people in a 60-centimeter bathroom try hard to target their urine stream so that it stays inside the bowl: a little unity among the working class.”
This observation, like many in “The Wonders”, derives its wonderful feeling (a very funny, often amazing feeling) not from high transparency, but from the way the smallest details of our lives are shaped by the reality of money. . Although we are drawn into the history of Maria and Alicia – Maria did not hide her wisdom from a man, Alicia betrayed a lover who could not admit that she had no children – Medellin researches deeper than economics. Old Maria resists her partner’s request to stay with her, thinking: “It’s a question of money … and a question of power.” And the fact is that women in Spain have not historically enjoyed it.
It is no coincidence that the underlined climax of the book, if you will call it, happens during the 2018 Women’s Strike, when Spanish women quit their jobs and took to the streets to protest gender inequality. In an article he published reflecting in March, Medell lamented that there was not a large mix of generations and social classes. Through a short scene involving Maria and Alicia near the end of the novel, it empowers its frustration with reality, momentarily, through the limitless possibilities of imagination.
“The Wonders” is not a loud, Fiji debut, and that’s one of its strengths. It is a vivid and painful intimate account of two easily overlooked lives. Medal depicts the gray world of hard work and solitude, yet she also makes room for her characters to grow in their power as women, the power they discover is not really in the money.