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Comment on ‘The Bones of my father’: where fiction meets fact

ermitadelasauceda

The hermitage at La Sauceda, where The Bones of my Father is partly set. Here, in ruins.

This ongoing book project of mine was born in reality. A reality not even hard worn historians and journalists have been able to explain, even understand: the enormity of man’s cruelty to man. The Spanish Civil War went on long past its official end date in 1939. Forty years of the winning Nationalist faction governing a devastated country made sure of it. The burial of thousands and thousands in unmarked graves before, during and long after one of the bloodiest conflicts of modern times is unfathomable – except, perhaps, if you know the Spanish deepest character. Both sides did it, yet the winners, headed by Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, continued the killings for the next 40 years or so. They had the advantage of having no opposition, of impunity. Carried over from then into modern times, successive governments of both sides of the political fence were reluctant to have the ugly head of revenge appear.

In 2007, a Socialist government approved a law that enabled families and interested parties to find their relatives and give them a decent burial. Similar laws were created in other countries, particularly in Argentina and Chile though not exclusively. The law was called Ley de Memoria Histórica. It is that memory my novel tries to deal with. This can only be done in fiction, I believe, because reality, reporting, can only come up with mere lists. I have read many Spanish books like this, of lists of names. I have several on my shelves. It is the horror of it that pushes me on, though sometimes I have to put it aside for while for the same reason.

Where fact meets fiction

La Sauceda

The restored hermitage. With the local cemetery, it was restored after the common grave was found.

I live in a small village in the Ronda mountains. Not more than forty kilometers to the South is a place called La Sauceda, where the atrocities of those years are plainly in evidence. It is the place I have chosen to place the main event of my novel. It is also the place that began to be dug up in 2011. Almost three years later, the common grave had been found and bodies recovered. Several people I know came away with cardboard boxes containing the bones of their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends. I was not able to be present at the ceremony and regret it very much. A good friend, the journalist and Hispanist David Eade, was. It is in his memory that I intend to dedicate the book.

In the introductory setting of The Bones of my Father, is the following paragraph:

Some time early the previous year a toothless old woman, dressed in the black of widowhood that had long faded to a dusty brown, had assured the digger’s advance team that the bodies had been buried over there, below the ridge you could see from the road. She knew because her father was shot and buried there. She had seen it from on top of the rock that sticks out over to the left, in front of the cave where she hid with her mother and sisters when the men came to take her father away.

The day I wrote that paragraph I was introduced to a woman sitting just outside the Pensioners’ Day Centre, where I often have breakfast and gather material from the older members (I, too, am a member and proud of it). The woman never entered the day centre, in the tradition of rural Spain, where a woman just doesn’t enter a bar. We take coffee outside to her.

We knew each other vaguely, as nodding neighbours do, and had never spoken. On this day she began to talk of her experience as a young girl towards the end of the war, not without some cajoling on my part.

She told me the exact same story I had written about just an hour before.

(C) Copyright Alberto Bullrich 2015

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