Wednesday 26 October 2022

Book Review / Audiobook review: Outlaws by Javier Cercas, translated by Anne McLean, Narrated by Luis Moreno

Outlaws Outlaws by Javier Cercas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anne McLean the translator has translated many famous authors writing in Spanish including two I have read and enjoyed Isabel Allende and Juan Gabriel Vásquez, so following on my usual 'follow the translator' route I came to Javier Cercas. This is the first book of his I have read. I chose this one to start with because it had an audiobook version. It was narrated by Luis Moreno (, whom I thought did a great job. I liked the tone of his voice and would love for him to record more of Cercas' works and other Spanish author's translated into English but whose books have yet to make it to audio.

As for the book, the story is presented as a series of interviews by an unnamed author writing a book about El Zarco, a teenage criminal from the era just after the death of Franco. These first person narratives come from a number of people each of whom offer different perspectives on life of Zarco - Ignacio Canas, Zarco's lawyer and ex-gang member, Police Inspector Cuenca and Eduardo Requena, Superintendent of the Prison. Their interviews are often rambling and repetitive, but in my opinion this structure works well, their almost monologues are very realistic of how people's memory work, a story unraveling bit by bit, each with contractions and unknowns from this series of unreliable narrators. They flow extremely well and with their slow reveal of the back story really keep the reader's attention throughout. I found it hard to put the book down at the end of the day.

Do we ever get to the whole truth, or just to various versions of the truth, a series of truths, or even only a partial picture of part truths? I was left to wonder what book the author would actually construct from these interviews. Just as Zarco's life and exploits had become something of a legend over time, a myth which for Cañas finds echoes in the story of Lain Shan Po that he (and I) recalls seeing on TV as The Water Margin ( ), the reader begins to consider whether it is ever possible to know it all, to understand how and why it all happened. As Cañas says "even if we find it comfortable to find an explanation for what we do, the truth is that most if what we do doesn't have a single explanation, supposing it even has any" Ca

But what is presented is a very entertaining and well written thriller. Lurking within and behind it, there's a somewhat murky picture of the social deprivation in post Franco times - the impact of poverty, bad housing, drug addiction, AIDS. It's never 'in your face' but it is ever present from the contrast in backgrounds and subsequent lives of Cañas and Zarco, between their opportunities or lack of afforded by between being a poor immigrant to the city a charnegos or being a quinquis a delinquent, small time criminal, life on two sides of the tracks, here a river, again echoing the Chinese story. The sadness of Cañas's continual involvement with Zarco and its impact on his life may not be that he initially became involved because he fancied Tere, a girl gang member with Zarco on Cañas' first meeting, but as Cuenca says the best thing that happened in my life happened to me due to a misunderstanding, because I liked a horrible book (in his case Galdos' book about the siege of Gerona which made him seek a posting in the city) and because I thought a villain was a hero

An excellent read, and highly recommended

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