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Let’s imagine a happy Arcadia: a country that’s always green, covered with forests and meadows, with rustic manor houses, simple woodcutters, and wise elders who harbor an ancient language and customs. This idyllic country suffers under the cruel oppression of foreigners who neither speak the native language nor understand the people’s customs, oppressors who depend on shameful collaborators who have betrayed the sacred cause. Fortunately, the Organization keeps watch over each and every one of its children. The just war, which has lasted centuries, will end with a bright new era; independence will triumph “through the force and violence of convictions.” After starting out among the virile woodcutter and wise old man of the mountain, Gorka K., already a battle hardened veteran, takes part in the conflict that’s ripping apart his country, first, as a minister in the political arm of the Organization; then, as a soldier. Soon he becomes known for his skill with weapons and bold patriotic actions. His career promises to be brilliant and it is, but not in the way that was expected. Juan Francisco Ferré’s novel doesn’t fit the outlines of a screenplay or the expectations of the genre; there are surprises in store every step of the way. Paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter, Ferré throws the reader off-balance: every time we think that we are on familiar ground, we encounter something entirely strange. The logic of the world and the logic of the story are on a course for collision from the first page to the last. Time zigzags at whim. Young Gorka, mythologized by the Organization, transforms into other unforeseen Gorkas: the fetishist of berets and military uniforms, the masturbator, the sodomite, the brutal executioner of the enemies of the cause. As we toboggan through the rises and falls of the novel), we observe another of the author’s intentions, to always “listen to the voices of the world,” in the words of Karl Kraus. Whoever looks for any kind of positive message in La fiesta del asno will be greatly disappointed. Ferré’s serpentine game is the opposite of political correctness; its subversive energy comes precisely from this total lack of correctness. Nobody involved in the Basque problem, neither nationalists from either side, politicians, judges, police, or religious leaders, will find support for their convictions. Fortunately, lovers of literature are left with the most refined and least common of the senses: that of humor.
Juan Goytisolo is the recipient the Premio Octavio Paz de Literatura, the Premio Juan Rulfo, and numerous other honors.
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