Summary (from Goodreads):
Fireflies, although set in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, could readily take place in a bellicose situation anywhere in the world. It contains an exposé of the chasm between generations, between rich and poor, between materialism and idealism. This novel has a socioeconomic and psychological relevance that leaves the reader pondering the consequences of war and the nugatory effects of imposing status quo values on adolescents who are in search of their own truth, their raison d'être. The story centers on the lives of two adolescents from opposite levels of society whose redemption lies in their short-lived mutual love.
Spanish writer Ana María Matute passed away last month. Her decease got a lot of media coverage in Spain, since she was one of the most acclaimed novelists of the country. This sad event made me realize that I had never read anything by her, much to my chagrin. I picked the first book that caught my attention from the library display and started reading it almost immediately.
Fireflies surprised me for its lyricism. It is clear from the first page that the author crafted her sentences with care. It is a pleasure to read something so beautifully written. This novel is a good example of Spanish modernism, starting with a stream-of-consciousness introduction of the main character, Sol, an introverted teenager who has just finished boarding school when the war breaks out. Sol is very detached from the material world she belongs to, and looks at society, specially at bourgeoisie, from a confused distance.
The intimist prose clashes with the subject at hand, Spanish Civil War. When Ana María Matute wrote this book, in 1955, the effects of the war were still looming over the population. It was even dangerous to write about it, since the winning faction established a dictatorship. Therefore, the story never really explores the political conflict and never takes a side. Instead, it focuses on the devastating consequences a war has on people at the bottom of the ladder. In the three years the war lasts, Sol and her family lose every one of their possessions, a working-class family comes to live with them, she starts teaching basic reading and writing skills to workmen in order to get food tickets, and falls in love with a poor boy who is in hiding to avoid being sent to the front. With every step into poverty, Sol discovers something about her, about the woman she is about to become and the world she is going to live in.
I don't want to spoil the novel, but the ending is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read. Without resorting to cheap tricks or being emotionally manipulative, the ending left me breathless, reflecting on the pointlessness and absurdities of war.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to find this book in English. There was a translation published on 1998 [the one I'm linking on the summary], but I can only find used copies on Abe Books, and those are over 50 dollars. WorldCat says that some college libraries and NYPL store some copies. The Everything España challenge is making me realize how hard it is to share Spanish literature with people who don't speak Spanish. There is a serious shortage of readily available translations of our best writers. Honestly, it is frustrating.
Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!