When it comes to movies, music, and other pop culture hits, I am usually a few decades behind. I most likely haven’t heard of the latest and greatest TV show, nor recognize a line-up of fashionable young actors. Where books are concerned, however, I’m much more omnivorous, consuming modern-day titles along with well-established classics.
In fact, the best book I read this year was written in 1945. When I started reading “Nada” by Carmen Laforet, I temporarily vanished from 2013 and lost myself in a Barcelona as bleak as the title. I was riveted from the very beginning, gripped by the conniving schemes that eventually culminate in murder.
Just one more chapter, I promise!
The book centers around Andrea, a village girl eager to attend college in the big city. Her high hopes for the future are quickly dashed by the reality of feuding relatives and an impoverished existence. Her general disillusion with college peers, especially the cruel treatment of a former friend, exacerbates her increasingly grim outlook on life. As the sinister souls of her uncles make home life more and more unbearable, Andrea tries her best to distance herself from the family. However, when a friend gets tangled up in the same mess, Andrea becomes tethered to the situation, unable to tear herself away from unfolding horrors.
Several times I wondered, sweaty palms gripping the pages, if the main character would suddenly be struck down by the evil forces coursing their way through the novel. I would nervously remind myself that there was still a great deal left: it couldn’t possibly make sense to kill off the protagonist now. This feeling of dread, of wondering what was lurking in the shadows, stayed with me all the way through the last chapter of the novel.
The author was only 23 when she wrote the book, and her work became a huge success. The book was the first to be honored with the Premio Nadal, a prestigious book award given to highlight up-and-coming authors. (As “Nada” was the first book to receive the prize, many people mistakenly believe that the prize takes its name from Laforet’s work; however, it is really named in memory of Eugenio Nadal, a beloved editor for the magazine Destino.)
As you may have guessed, the work reflects the downtrodden spirit and disillusionment felt immediately following the Spanish Civil War. For this reason, perhaps, it struck quite the chord with readers. Even today, some consider “Nada” to be a cult classic. It has been compared to “Catcher in the Rye” for this reason, as well as the way both works deal with teenage coming-of-age search for the self.
As I read this book, I was surprised to find myself in a sort of underground club. Many co-workers would bound up to me excitedly when I took my copy out, bubbling over with enthusiasm for the work. (Those who hadn’t read it hung their heads, saying it was on their to-read lists.) Even a stranger on the metro stopped to ask me if I was enjoying it, as it was her favorite novel!
Who would like this book?
Readers looking for books set in Barcelona or post-Civil War Spain. Anyone who has been jaded by adulthood. Anyone who wants a spine-tingling, dark read about the grim realities of life.
Is this book available in English?
Yes, it is. While I cannot comment on the English version, as I read it in the original Spanish, you can find the book here on Amazon.
Carmen LaForet’s ‘Nada’: A young woman’s take on a sordid world – New York Times Review
Have you ever read “Nada” or any other work by Carmen Laforet? What was your rave read in 2013?