Carlos Rojas: El Ingenioso Hidalgo y Poeta Federico García Lorca asciende a los infiernos (The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell)

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This is the second in Rojas' loosely-connected trilogy, following on from El valle de los caídos [The Valley of the Fallen]. However, it is a very different novel from its predecessor, with the only continuity being that both are about Spain's past and involve the (fictitious) biographer, Sandro Vasari. The title of this book makes it clear what it is about - what happened to Federico García Lorca after his death, though much of it is about what led to his death. A lot of the book is essentially about Lorca and his life and death. I would imagine that, for most non-Spanish readers, their knowledge of Lorca would be very limited. I know that he was a well-known poet of liberal views, that he was gay, that he wrote some first-class poetry but also some plays, including, in particular, Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding) and that his death was shrouded in mystery, though he was almost certainly murdered by Francoist forces soon after the start of the Spanish Civil War. Beyond that, I suspect most English-speaking readers will be lost. Despite that, I did find it interesting to learn about his life and it prompted me to do a bit of research. For example, he is known to have had a close friendship with Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, a well-known bullfighter. In the Wikipedia entry we learn that the love of Sánchez Mejías' life was Encarnación López Julvez, known as La Argentinita, for whom Sánchez Mejías left his wife, Lola (there was no divorce in Spain, so they could not marry). However, in the scene from Lorca's life that we see, we learn that Lorca, at least for a while, spurned Sánchez Mejías when Sánchez Mejías cheated on La Argentinita, to the chagrin of both Lorca and his friend. We also learn other interesting features about Lorca's life, including his great fear that, once the Fascists took over, he was doomed. When talking to a friend on 16 July 1936, the day before the Franco coup, he shows his concerns and says that he plans to flee to Granada (where his family home was), feeling he would be safer there. His friend advises him against it, correctly as it turned out (Lorca was seized in Granada and later shot), as he feels his homosexuality would be more tolerated in Madrid and, indeed, in Madrid a man of his political views was just one of many.

Rojas' hell is somewhat different from other literary hells. The first part of the novel - called The Spiral - shows hell as a continuous spiral, where each dead person has a room entirely on his own, in which there is a theatre where he sees his dreams, his memories and his fantasies played out. There is no sleep - Lorca does complain about this - and this is where Lorca spurns Sánchez Mejías and worries about the imminent civil war. The second part is called The Arrest. Historically, we do not know exactly what happened to Lorca after his arrest. The author Ian Gibson has written a fascinating book on the topic which is based on some primary evidence but also some speculation. Rojas, as a fiction writer, is not subject to the constraints of the historian. The Gibson book was written in English before this book so it would seem that Rojas was aware of it. In this section he has Sandro Vasari, the biographer of Goya from El valle de los caídos [The Valley of the Fallen], talking to Ramos Ruiz Alonso, the man who allegedly arrested Lorca, with Ruiz Alonso justifying his actions. The next section - Destiny - continues with the last day with the message that Lorca sees Prepare Yourself for the Judgement. However we also see more of Lorca the poet and Vasari's views on how Lorca is perceived in Spain. But we also get an idea of what might have happened if he had not gone to Grenada - hiding for fifty years in the attic of a friend, for example - and we see Lorca as he might have been had he lived. However, there was also the possibility that he would stay at the house of Manuel de Falla but Lorca rejects that possibility as de Falla never forgave him for writing a blasphemous poem. The novel contains much speculation as to why Lorca was murdered and the details of his arrest and murder. The final part is called The Judgement and concerns Lorca's earthly judgement, i.e. his execution by firing squad (with others).

For many people, the key event of Lorca's life was his death. Given that it was shrouded in mystery, showed the direction Spain would take for the next forty years, took place at the beginning of the Civil War and involved perhaps the best-known living Spanish writer of the time, this is not entirely surprising. Rojas spends much time on it, not on just what he (and others) think might have happened but what could have happened, had he not gone to Granada or had he managed to hide in a friend' house. That aspect is fascinating as is his conception of hell. While some of the aspects of his life may be somewhat obscure to English-speaking readers, Yale University Press, in their wisdom, have just decided to publish this work in English and this is most welcome. As far as I can see, this will be the fourth one of Rojas' works published in English and it is to be hoped that this will help him become better known in the English-speaking world.

Publishing history

First published in 1980 by Destino
First English translation by Yale University Press in 2013
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