Miguel Delibes: Las Ratas (Rats)
In the second volume of his rural trilogy, Delibes returns to themes that preoccupy the impoverished village communities in the north of Spain in the post-civil war years of the 1940s. The central character is a young lad called El Nini, who lives with his ‘uncle’ in a cave on the outskirts of the village. The story mixes a huge amount of rural wisdom, through the aphorisms of an old man thought to be 100 years old, through references to saints’ days that mark out the farming calendar according to the weather and seasons, and the knowledge of locals who have battled with nature over the decades.
El Nini is a child whose parentage is shrouded in mystery. He has more grandparents than genetically possible, and El Ratero is known as his ‘uncle’, but we are left in some doubt about that. The local authorities want to evacuate El Ratero and El Nini from their cave, to smarten up the image of the community and attract tourists, but they refuse to leave. They live on nothing but the few reales made from hunting rats, which they sell for food (tastes better than chicken, with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, they say).
The story is another attempt by Delibes to champion the rights of the poor to maintain the way of life that they love, even though they choose to be condemned to lifelong poverty.