El Camino by Miguel Delibes
One of the greatest disappointments for English readers is the almost total lack of English translations of most of the Spanish classics. Apart from the still-living Javier Marías, the world imagined that Spanish literature died when García Lorca was murdered during the Spanish Civil War. It is true that authors during the Franco regime had to be circumspect about their topics, given the intrusiveness of state censorship, but such conditions can generate a brand of writing that betrays all kinds of subtleties missing from normal liberally-written literature.
One of the greatest of post-civil war literary giants, Miguel Delibes was a newspaper editor and prolific writer, and amongst his many offerings is a rural trilogy, including El Camino (The Way). The other two volumes are Los santos inocentes (The holy innocents) and Las Ratas (The rats). All three novels are set in the years of deprivation of the 1940s and 1950s, when the Spanish nation toiled to drag itself up from the disaster of civil war. In El Camino, we follow the early years of childhood of Daniel, el Mochuelo who lives in a northern Spanish town near the coast. Daniel is torn between the driving ambition of his father (a humble cheesemaker), who has saved all his life to send his son to a private school in the city, and Daniel’s own wish to stay in the village, with his friends, with all the things that he is familiar with. As an 11 year old, happy with the prospect of becoming a cheesemaker like his father, he fails to understand why his father has made them all suffer, depriving the family of basic comforts in life, just to send Daniel to the city to be educated like a gentleman.
Through Daniel, Delibes cleverly gets us to reassess our own ambitions and tendencies in life, and see them for they really are.