"As far as I can remember, I spent my childhood in a tree watching the swollen river rush by. Children don't climb trees anymore and the river doesn't rise that high, but those floods and trees appeared in my first book of poetry Kea behelainopean bezala (Like smoke in a low-lying fog, 1994). When I picked the books up at the printer's, I tripped and dropped them all. I thought it was a good sign, as if they had a life of their own.
I am a writer because I have no talent for drawing or music. Those inadequacies, and all my other ones, help me write. You could say that's why my books often have something to do with music, such as Beluna jazz (Dark jazz, 1996) and Pasaia blues (1999).
I studied law, but I never worked as a lawyer. I've been doing scriptwriting for a long time. I spent the 1998-99 academic year in New York and ever since then the Brooklyn Bridge has been part of my spine. The chronicle Piano gainean gosaltzen (Breakfast on the piano, 2000) was the product of my stay in New York.
My favorite genre is the short story, as witnessed by Telefono kaiolatua (The caged telephone, 1997) and Bizkarrean tatuaturiko mapak (The maps tattooed on his back, 1998). Tell a novelist to pack a suitcase and he'll organize an entire move. Not the short story writer. He'll only put in the bare essentials. When a short story unfolds, it fits on the kitchen floor like a map of the city.
My last book was Norbait dabil sute-eskaileran (Someone's on the fire escape, 2001)."
Cano, H. "Biography", in Olaziregi, M.J. (comp.), An Anthology of Basque Short Stories, Center for Basque Studies-University of Nevada, Reno, 2004.
©Mari Jose Olaziregi
©Translation: Cecilia Rossi
In spite of his youth, Harkaitz Cano has found a place in the current Basque literary scene and become one of the most attractive authors of the present day. He holds a degree in Law and currently makes a living as a freelance journalist and writer. Among the prizes his literary career has harvested we can highlight the Imajina Ezazu Euskadi Prize (1992), the Donostia Hiria Prize (1993), and the Ignacio Aldecoa Prize (1998). In any case, it was his winning the Euskadi Literature Prize for his novel Belarraren ahoa (The Edge of Grass) (2005) (Spanish: El filo de la hierba, Alberdania, 2006) that has confirmed his canonical place in our present literary scene. He has also published poetry volumes such as Dardaren interpretazioa / Interpretación de los temblores, (Atenea, 2004), collections of short stories: Telefono kaiolatua (Susa, (The Caged Telephone)(Trans: Enseres de ortopedia inútil, Ed. Hiru, 2002) and three novels: Beluna Jazz (Dark Jazz) (1996) (Spanish: Jazz y Alaska en la misma frase, Seix Barral, 2004), Pasaia blues (Susa, 1998), and the aforementioned Belarraren ahoa. Moreover, he is the author of a collection of journalistic writings Piano gainean gosaltzen / El Puente desafinado (Erein, 2003).
Close to the dirty realism of Raymond Carver, among others, Cano's fiction feeds on that seemingly balanced reality surrounding us in order to reveal its cracks, its openings on to a place that becomes disturbing. His short stories are minimalist and speak of desolate cities, of telephones threatening to ring in the middle of the night, or tales of lovelessness plagued by deafening silences. These ingredients, seasoned with techniques of the noir novel, make up the universe of his collection Telefono kaiolatua (The Caged Telephone) (translated into Spanish as Enseres de ortopedia inútil, Hiru, 2002). His stories have evolved from somewhat effecting tales with aesthetically shocking endings, to narratives where the influence of masters such as the aforementioned Carver, or R. Ford and T. Capote becomes more apparent. His latest collection of stories, Neguko zirkua (Winter Circus) (Susa, 2005) has been considered the best in his career to date. Once again, his tendency towards literary playfulness becomes apparent, as well as the outlook of the narrator focussing on objects which at first seem insignificant but later become laden with an intensity and meaningfulness indeed surprising.
It is the presence of music, the slow rhythms of blues and jazz that abound in his first two novels: Beluna Jazz and Pasaia blues. The former is structured on two levels. The first level retells the complex life of trumpet player Bob Ieregi while the second one, the events which occur in a psychiatric hospital. Apart from this, though, from the start of the novel we become involved in a crime, adding a great dose of suspense to our reading of the text. Technically, we can highlight the use of an omniscient narrator, the abundance of metacommentaries that interrupt the narrative line, the constant flashbacks/ flash-forward, and, above all, the most attractive feature of Cano's lyric prose: its recurrent images and metaphors. The author has stated that the oneiric and unreal atmosphere which abounds in this novel could correspond to the influence that the reading of M. Lowry's Lunar Caustic has had on him. The list of musicians and works cited in the novel is indeed endless -the great Miles Davis, the pianist Cedar Walton, and the well-known Charlie Parker, to name a few. Just like Julio Cortázar in El perseguidor, Cano has aimed in his novel to pay homage to Parker's music.
His next novel, Pasaia blues, does not have the oneiric and surrealist atmosphere of the previous one. It could be said, its focus is more realistic and, although it is true the dose of intrigue is great, it is a novel that could be considered pseudo-, or falsely-detective, as the very Cano has commented. In this novel, as is the case in many contemporary works, in the end the detective turns out to be the culprit. Worth highlighting is the expressionist description that is made of the village where the story is set, Pasaia. The dogfights, scrap yards, boxing fights, are everyday elements of this stifling environment in which the characters live. Also worth highlighting in this novel, as in the previous one, is the references to well-known films (especially, to A Clockwork Orange), and to songs and singers such as Billie Holliday, Camaron, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed.
The last novel by Cano to date, Belarraren ahoa, has nothing to do with the previous two volumes, in the sense that it is not a noir novel in which a crime needs to be resolved. The novel is an uchronia, or maybe, an alternate history; in its main line of plot, Hitler has won the Second World War and now dominates Europe. He then decides to conquer Manhattan, in order to attempt the conquest of the whole American continent from there. His journey takes him to New York on a ship aboard which Charles Chaplin is also travelling, imprisoned on account of his film The Great Dictator. On a second level another story is retold -that of a stowaway who travelled to New York in 1886 hidden inside the crown of the Statue of Liberty. The fate of this stowaway, Olivier Legrand, crosses Chaplin's, who manages to escape from his torturers. The originality of this plotline finds its narrative counterpoint in Cano's attractive prose style, full of images and lyricism. To conclude, this is a story with a great dose of suspense which could well be considered a meta-text given its recurrent reflections on life and writing.
Further information about the author:
- To see the author's translated works, go to the List of Translations from Basque of this website.
- The website of the Ikeder.
- The 5th issue of the Transcript review.
- The website of Euskal Idzaleen Elkartea-EIE (Basque Writers' Association).
- Literaturaren zubitegia.
- You can consult some of his narrative and poetry works in the website of the publishing house Susa and in the Basque poetry portal.
© Neguko zirkua: Susa
© Beluna jazz: Susa
© Pasaia blues: Susa
© Belarraren ahoa: Alberdania