Let’s say you’re in a car accident. It’s not a bad one. You rear-end someone on a busy highway where traffic is crawling. And let’s say the person you hit happens to be a wealthy woman who leaps from her vehicle and berates you in language unfit for the ears of small children. What would you do?
Javier, the supposed name of the protagonist of Lorenzo Silva’s novel The Faint-hearted Bolshevik, finds himself in this exact scenario and consequently decides to spend his summer playing pranks on this woman, Sonsoles, though the word “prank” hardly describes what he does. For amusement, Javier calls the woman’s home, lying in a variety of ways, all of which inflict psychological stress on Sonsoles and her family.
What kind of sick individual does such a thing? Javier is no prince, but he suffers in ways we can all, to some extent, relate to, which makes the story palatable. His job pays well, but traps him in a rat race that leaves him feeling like his soul is “a dead weight down there, just below my nut sack.” He’s alone, average-looking, and his mother died years ago. There’s no mention of his having family or friends. In our first encounter with Javier, Sonsoles treats him like trash. By the end of chapter one, Javier has decided to make Sonsoles suffer, and all this reviewer could feel is schadenfreude.
As Javier stalks Sonsoles, he sees and falls in love with her teenage sister, Rosana. He begins to lie his way into her (Rosana’s) life. Javier and Rosana meet, chat, and meet again, and eventually they find their way to a swimming pool, where Javier has something akin to a religious experience when he sees her in her bikini. Finally, when Javier decides the pranks have gone far enough, he takes Rosana to a quiet place where he’s about to break off their strange, illicit relationship, when something happens (I won’t spoil it for you) that turns Javier’s experience from revenge-as-amusement to life-altering-shitstorm.
In this short novel, Javier, who speaks to us as a first person narrator, is aware of his shortcomings, though he doesn’t present them as evidence of his innocence. He knows he’s guilty and accepts his punishment without any apparent joy or sadness. His sense of right and wrong is, in a strange way, what guides him, even when he chooses what’s wrong. In choosing revenge, he seeks balance to Sonsoles’ cruelty, though he miscalculates and tips the scales the other way. Indeed, plotting revenge requires two graves,.
The title, The Faint-hearted Bolshevik, refers to Javier. The novel attempts to establish a parallel between Javier and one imaginary Bolshevik who, before killing a beautiful Russian grand duchess, falls in love with her. “What a tender moment,” Javier tells us, “when the Bolshevik turns against himself and the Revolution to admit his already necessarily despairing love for the Grand Duchess.”
Which brings us to the class issue. Javier is well-paid, but needs to work long days to stay that way. Sonsoles’s life will be a long road paved with money and comfort. The contrast is clear: Javier is the Bolshevik, Rosana the Dutchess. It makes one wonder: Would Javier have launched his revenge quest without feeling some sort of class resentment (subconscious or otherwise)? He certainly has his views of morality and wealth/poverty (“A conscience isn’t a basic commodity, just a whim of people with full stomachs”). It’s a question that lingers. The way Javier feels about himself certainly has something to do with what his job—and, by extension, the economy as a whole—has done to him.
Money, overall, seems to hover in the background, while the emptiness at the core of Javier’s life takes center stage. As readers, we hope he fills it with the love he seems to need. In the end, though, we are left pondering Javier’s final thoughts, as well as bits of wisdom he offered throughout the book, including this little nugget: “There is no more interesting believer than the one who changes faith.”
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .