The best book I read in 2013

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!

Summary

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.

Some history

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.

More reviews 

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?

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks for this! I’m always looking for good books to read in Spanish. I’ll definitely be checking this one out.

    • Cassandra

      Dooooo it. I learned some fun new vocabulary, too, which is wonderful for us language learners (er, nerds)!

  2. One day, I will finish El Tiempo Entre Costuras. Until then…no more books in Spanish!

  3. I actually read this book back in 2008 when I was studying abroad in Malaga. It was recommended to us by one of our language professors. I didn’t really enjoy the book (I’m not a fan of depressing novels) but I might have to give it another try since it’s been awhile since I’ve read it. I didn’t like Catcher in the Rye either when I read it–I think I get impatient with teenage angst novels.

    I’m still trying to get through a Spanish book I bought awhile ago by Carlos Ruiz Zafon but it’s been so long since I set it aside, I’ve kind of forgotten the story. Oops! :S

    One of the best books I just finished in a long time (an English book) is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s so unusually written (told from the perspective of Death as a character) and had me gripped from start to finish. The movie recently came out a few months ago which I haven’t seen yet. But the book is amazing.

    • Cassandra

      The book is very dark, and a bit polemic, so it’s interesting to hear from someone who didn’t enjoy it so much! Let me know if you d try to pick it up again.

      A book told from the perspective of death sounds interesting indeed! I’ve heard some buzz about “The Book Thief” and may have to check it out. I also tend to prefer the book to the movie; thanks for the rec!

  4. I read Nada while I was studying abroad in Barcelona. It was so cool to read while I was in the city! I didn’t love it, but it was quite gripping. I didn’t know it was a cult book though (for some reason that really surprises me).

    Shadow of the Wind is a great book, but definitely has much fancier vocabulary. I mean, who knew ‘semi-darkness’ had its own special word in Spanish?? I’m halfway through it in Spanish and learning a ton of useless words, but it’s fun!

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