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A masterpiece never to be missed

Nada won the first Spanish literary prize, the Premio Nadal in 1944. The book is considered one of the 100 most important books in Spanish language of the 20th century

Nada (nothing in Spanish) is one of the most important Spanish literary works of the 20th century. Written by Carmen Laforet (1921-2004) and published in 1945, it describes life in post-civil war Spain and the start of the Francoist dictatorship.

The novel is the story of Andrea, an 18-year-old orphan who arrives to Barcelona after receiving a scholarship to study at the university. She stays with her maternal family who live in a flat on Aribau street.

Her family consist of her grandmother, aunt Angustias, uncle Roman, uncle Juan, his wife Gloria, their baby boy, and the maid Antonia.

Andrea hasn’t been in the house since her mother’s death and has very few memories of the place. She gets struck instantly by the poverty, the filth and the weird dynamics that binds everyone together.

Also, her aunt Angustia’s love of control and drama, her uncle Roman’s constant provocation of Juan and his wife, Juan’s bad temper and continuous abuse of Gloria, Antonia’s relish at everyone’s misery and her grandmother’s denial and devotion to her flawed children. However, when Andrea starts her studies, she discovers another world that is very different from her own. She befriends Ena, a rich girl who becomes her study mate and invites her home.

She also meets Pons and his bohemian artist friends, who reject their bourgeoise class and choose to live in what they consider hardship; a comfortable status that is a far cry from Andrea’s own reality. What surprises you most when reading the book is Laforet’s verbal dexterity.

Although written in a simple language, her description of places, people, situation is so vivid and engaging. She reflects the reality of living in a dysfunctional family where absurd situations lead to disastrous outcomes. Her characters are real and profound, their reactions are sometimes extreme (Juan) or unpredictable (Gloria and Roman). Andrea is always the silent observer who absorbs and reflects everything that passes by her.

She relates to each character existing in her life differently; empathising with Gloria, rebelling against her distant relatives, and cherishing Ena and Pons in a pure adolescent way.

Her description of the living conditions and the hunger she always feels and could never satisfy is heartbreaking yet not far from the suffering of many Spaniards post-civil war.

The writer also cleverly displays Franco’s ban on Catalan - her mother tongue and the language spoken in Barcelona - by scattering a few Catalan words in the grandmother’s speech.

The book provides a good insight of society at the time and documents old-fashioned traditions that ceased to exist such as chaperoning and women’s mourning period.

Nada was Camren Laforet’s first novel that she wrote at the age of 23. It won the first Spanish literary prize, the Premio Nadal in 1944. The book is considered one of the 100 most important books in Spanish language of the 20th century and a significant addition to existential post-civil war literature.

After the huge success of the book, it was turned into a movie by the same name in 1947. However, it wasn’t as lucky as the book in surpassing Francoist state censorship as 34 minutes of the movie were cut off leaving only 76 minutes. This meant that some roles were removed as well as exterior scenes shot in Barcelona.

The title of the book ‘nothing’ is how Andrea describes her final departure: “From the house of Aribau street I take away nothing. At least, this is what I thought then.”

Nada takes you back to adolescence years, where emotions are heightened and disappointments are always round the corner. A masterpiece that shouldn’t be missed.

Rasha Al Raisi

The writer is a certified skills trainer and the author of The World According to Bahja

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