IGERABIDE, Juan Kruz
"At home they waited five years before I was born – who knows where I was? – I've always been pretty scatterbrained. Anyway, I certainly can't say I wasn't wanted by my parents. So that was how I came into the world, in the spring of 1956, after a hard winter, since there were some extraordinary snowfalls right before I was born. Since I've written a lot of children's literature, I should speak about my childhood, but I don't have a lot to say since the most interesting things remain hidden in my subconscious.
"To tell the truth, I don't feel too comfortable in a catalogue of writers; indeed, I will confess here for the first time that I wanted to be a musician, an organist, pianist and accordion player, in short, a player of anything with keys. However, frustration left me with pencil in hand, scratching my nose, and I started writing as if in a dream, like artists who begin to draw half numb. I read a lot as a child, but without thinking that I liked reading; I read just to read, that's all. And I started writing the same way as a teenager: I wrote just to write. I had no esthetic awareness to speak of, nor, for that matter, any such inclination. For years I wrote just for myself. My daughter was born before my first book came out. Since then, however, I've had more books than children.
"Is it worth mentioning the books I've written? Which I like best? I can't do it; when it comes down to it, each book is a small frustration, and not because of the success it may or may not have or the good or bad reviews it will get, no. I'll tell the truth so softly no one can hear me: I want to be a god and create my own universe, but a real one, a tangible one, not just an imaginary one. But that is impossible. Then I thought it might be easier to be Satan, but since even Rimbaud failed at that, it must be hopeless to go that route. Now you know the truth of the truth."
Igerabide studied to be a teacher and taught for many years. He then completed his Doctorate in Philology and currently teaches at the University of the Basque Country. He has done research in the field of children's literature, particularly in poetry, publishing, among other works, Bularretik mintzora: haurra, ahozkotasuna eta literatura [From Breast to Speech: The Child, Orality and Literature] (Erein, 1993). In this work, Igerabide analyzes children's literature from the point of view of oral traditions, especially fairy tales.
With respect to his creative works, Igerabide is the author of a number of books for children and young people, both narrative and poetry. Nevertheless, he started with literature for adults, publishing first the collection of poems, Notre Dameko oihartzunak [Echoes of Notre Dame] (Elkar, 1984), followed by three more: Bizitzarekin solasean [Conversation with Life] (Elkar, 1989), Sarean leiho [Window in the Net] (Alberdania, 1994), and Spanish Critics' Prize winner Mailu isila [The Silent Hammer] (Alberdania, 2002). Concerning the latter, Iñaki Aldekoa writes, "Igerabide's poetry speaks of the worries that unsettle the daily life of an ordinary citizen: it speaks to us of his work, ponders humbly and with irony the things he must face in life ("metaphysical reflections while making the bed," "while buttoning my shirt," "metaphysical reflections in the rain without an umbrella," and "gazing at the horizon before making the bed") with a point of view that unites poetry and life" (in Aldekoa, Iñaki. Historia de la literatura vasca [History of Basque Literature], Erein, San Sebastian, 2004).
Beginning with Begi-niniaren poemak [Poems for the Pupil of the Eye] (Erein, 1992), Igerabide started writing poetry for children as well. The work is a collection of haikus for children and, together with his later collections of poems for children, Egun osorako poemak [Poems for All Day] (Pamiela, 1993), Haur korapiloak [Tonguetwisters for Children] (Pamiela, 1997), Botoi bat bezala/Como un botón [Like a Button] (bilingual edition, Anaya-Haritza, 1999), Mintzo naiz isilik [I Speak Silently] (Elkar, 2001), Begi loti/Ojitos dormilones [Sleepy Eyes] (bilingual edition, Malaga County Council, 2003), Munduko ibaien poemak [Poems for the Rivers of the World] (Elkar, 2004) and Gorputz osorako poemak [Poems for the Whole Body] (Aizkorri, 2005), made Igerabide "one of the most important writers of children's literature," according to Aldekoa. "The marks of Juan Kruz Igerabide's poetry are present in all of these works: perspective, subtlety, surprise, elegance of the verse... It is an open and new look that reveals a complex world, one of precise poetic formulation.
"Nature and the word are the two mainstays of this poetry: observation of the natural world and the quest for the precise word, one that finds a new way of looking at reality, ordinary objects and life" (in Kortazar, Jon. "Introducción" ["Introduction"], Hosto gorri, hosto berde/Hoja roja, hoja verde [Red Leaf, Green Leaf], bilingual edition, Atenea, Madrid, 2002).
In an interview with the journal Behinola [Once Upon a Time], published in Xabier Etxaniz Erle and Manu Lopez Gaseni's book 90eko hamarkadako haur eta gazte literatura [Children's and Young People's Literature of the 1990s] (Pamiela, 2005), Igerabide gives his opinion on poetry for children: "The art of poetry is in wordplay (...) expressing feelings, seeking the mystery of life, describing your own special view of the world, coming up with your own unusual and mysterious turns of phrase, and thus creating an esthetic object. In short, children's poetry is a path that goes from wordplay to the creation and enjoyment of an esthetic object." He adds, "nevertheless, if the wordplay is unrelated to one's interior world, it risks becoming mechanical."
With respect to Igerabide's stories for children, he has written more than thirty books, including the ones with main character Grigor: Egunez parke batean [Daytime at the Park] (Alberdania, 1993), Gauez zoo batean [Nighttime at the Zoo] (Alberdania, 1994), Denboraldi bat ospitalean [A Stay at the Hospital] (Alberdania, 1995) and Oporraldi bat baserrian [Holiday on the Farm] (Alberdania, 1996). "Instead of using elements of fantasy, there are stories in which the protagonist is fantastic, as in the stories of Grigor and the bee. Since the bee is the boy's friend, it shows him the world of the animals; the world of small animals in Egunez parke batean, and that of large animals in Gauez zoo batean. Nevertheless, in these stories, and in Denboraldi bat ospitalean as well, the writer speaks to us of human relationships, fears and behavior. Grigor fights death in Gauez zoo batean, when he is in a coma after an accident; the book is the story of the child's coma dream" (in Etxaniz, Xabier. Euskal Haur eta Gazte Literaturaren Historia [A History of Basque Children's and Young People's Literature], Pamiela, Pamplona, 1997).
With Jonas eta hozkailu beldurtia [Jonas and the Frightened Fridge] (Aizkorri, 1998), illustrated by Mikel Valverde, Igerabide won the Euskadi Prize in 1999. "In this story, Juan Kruz Igerabide uses his own words to describe a child's feelings about fear. Although the story begins and ends with humor (...), the fear that Jonas feels when home alone grows into terror. And in this progression, Jonas' fear moves from his heart to his hands, from his hands to his eyes, and from his eyes to his head... The refrigerator is also afraid and trembles, since there may be a wolf inside it, gobbling up all the food. And what do you do if a wolf comes when you're home alone? (...) The language is lively, rhythmic and colloquial and, although it is presented as a narrative, it owes a great debt to the poetry that is distinctively Igerabide's. But in addition to narrative and poetry, modernity and tradition are also both well represented: feelings that are as old as humans (fear, solitude), increased by the presence of the wolf and adapted to a modern situation" (in Sagastume, Laura. Behinola, Vol. 1, November, 1999).
The character introduced in Jonas eta hozkailu beldurtia then appeared again in Jonasen pena [The Woes of Jonas] (Aizkorri, 1999), Jonasen iratzargailua [Jonas' Alarm Clock] (Aizkorri, 2001), Jonas larri [Jonas in Trouble] (Aizkorri, 2002) and Jonasek arazo potolo bat du [Jonas Has a Big Fat Problem] ( Aizkorri, 2004).
Igerabide has written poetry for young people – Kartapazioko poemak (written with Karlos Linazasoro; Ibaizabal, 1998) and Hosto gorri, hosto berde/Hoja roja, hoja verde – as well as narrative. His narrative includes Helena eta arrastiria [Helena and the Setting Sun] (Elkar, 1999), Hamabi galdera pianoari [Twelve Questions for the Piano] (Alberdania, 1999), Begi argi horiek [Those Bright Eyes] (Aizkorri, 2000), Hiru ahizpa [Three Sisters] (Erein, 2003) and Bosniara nahi [Back to Bosnia] (Aizkorri, 2003).
In the collection of haikus, Hosto gorri, hosto berde/Hoja roja, hoja verde, "there are two main topics: the red leaf, the leaf that has fallen from the tree or that is about to fall and start an independent life, the leaf that symbolizes both decadence and the point of departure of a new life; and the green leaf, still alive on the tree" (Kortazar, Jon. Op. cit.). The novel Hamabi galdera pianoari consists of the interior monologue as she sits before the piano of a 14-year-old girl whose mother has died. It is an examination of death, but not an intellectual one since adolescents tend to feel things rather than think about them. The main characters of Hiru ahizpa are three sisters who, after the death of their father, join their mother as seamstresses. This harsh and realist story has elements of fairy tales and mystery stories in it. In Begi argi horiek, the author "takes us to mythical Machu Picchu in a voyage full of adventure and danger. A girl who studies martial arts and who is the daughter of a well-known teacher of religion narrates the voyage, which is miraculous and, at the same time, profound, dangerous and worrisome, and in which different philosophies of life, religious diversity, violence and the desire for power are woven together in a novel full of intrigue that also takes a close look at life. With careful prose and a simple structure, Igerabide has created a fascinating novel that captures the reader's attention and makes him think along with the young protagonist. The addition of poems and ponderings as well as descriptions of people and places gives the adventure of this excellent mystery novel greater literary value" (in Etxaniz, Xabier. CLIJ, February, 2001).
War is the topic of Bosniara nahi. Wanting to escape the fighting, a Bosnian family make their way to Barcelona but unfortunately, not all of them arrive. The mother, daughter and son try to go on with their lives, but think often of their father; they don't even know if he is still alive or not. Because of this, young Nezir will return to the former Yugoslavia in search of his father. This dramatic and painful tale is told through different but almost symmetrical stories: that of the father, who experiences innumerable risks and adventures to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy, and that of the son, who will not rest until he finds his father alive.
Igerabide has also published two books of aphorisms: Herrenaren arrastoan [On the Trail of the Limping Man] (Alberdania, 1998) and Egia hezur [Bones of Truth] (Alberdania, 2004).
Among Igerabide's most recent works we find his first novel for adults: Hauts bihurtu zineten [You Became Dust] (Alberdania, 2005). "The moral, sentimental and existential conflicts in Igerabide's novel are set in a small neighborhood in the Basque Country in the last years of the Franco era and the Transition. The strikes of the time, the workers' movement, the arrests, the attacks, the rise of alternative lifestyles associated with leftist movements...all of these – not often dealt with in our literature – are discussed in Igerabide's novel, all presented through the eyes of the narrator, Joantxo. The story is guided by Joantxo, known to most as Herrenko: a young man with a propensity for poetry and full of curiosity, and whose first steps as an adolescent and interior conflicts play a major role in this novel whose background is the socio-political atmosphere of the time. In any case, the real protagonist of the novel is Adela, the progressive teacher of the neighborhood and a sort of second mother to the narrator. Igerabide made an excellent choice in deciding to tell this woman's life through the eyes of the young boy; the contradictions and drama of the woman (and of society) are made more obvious through the teenager's eyes. Thus, the gradual demythification of Adela, who was idealized by the narrator at the beginning, grants the author a superb opportunity to present dialectics on various topics and to reflect openly, having placed the attitudes of the two main characters in opposition. "Igerabide's novel allows different levels of reading, since it is very rich in its simplicity. The book is both a novel of initiation and a recreation of an historical time (it is not difficult to imagine it adapted for the screen), or a reflection on life and existence, or a painful testimony to revolution and an impossible Utopia" (in Egaña, Ibon. "Memoriaren errautsetatik" ["From the Ashes of Memory"], Berria [News], 6 December, 2005).
Igerabide has also adapted Homer's Ulysses for young people (Basque title, Ulises; Erein, 2000), and has translated into Basque Apuleius' The Golden Ass (Basque title, Urrezko astoa; translated with Anjel Lertxundi; Ibaizabal, 1996), Hiner Saleem's My Father's Rifle (Basque title, Nire aitaren fusila; Alberdania, 2004) and Gustavo Martin Garzo's Tres cuentos de hadas [Three Fairy Tales] (Basque title, Maitagarrien hiru ipuin; Elkar, 2005).
For more information on Juan Kruz Igerabide and his works:
- Euskal Idazleen Elkartea
- Literaturaren Zubitegia
- The Gate of Basque Poetry
- XX. mendeko Poesia Kaierak
- Galtzagorri elkartea
- Alberdania argitaletxea
- Erein argitaletxea
- Aizkorri argitaletxea
© Translation: Kristin Addis
© Photo: Instituto Cervantes
© Notre Dameko oihartzunak: Elkar
© Gorputz osorako poemak: Aizkorri
© Jonas eta hozkailu beldurtia: Aizkorri
© Hauts bihurtu zineten: Alberdania