"I was born in Zumarraga in 1956. Most of the people there had only recently abandoned their scythes and hoes. Our father became a truck driver. I've spent many hours on the highway and on trains. I've had some crazy dreams, but never that I would become a professional writer.
The magazines Zeruko Argia and Argia gave me the opportunity to write and learn, and the magazine Ustela gave me the opportunity to publish. I have since published six books, including Sargori (Heat Wave) in 1994 and Un ange passe: Isilaldietan (An Angel Passes: In Moments of Silence) in 1998, and I don?t know what to say about what I've written. My life would be lessened if I were forced to give up writing, but it would be unbearable if I had to give up reading.
I have come across some very kind people among Basque writers and lovers of literature, but I have few kindred spirits among them.
When I hear that I'm a writer, it embarrasses me less than it used to. I want to continue writing, but I'm not in any hurry."
Lizarralde, P. "Biography", in Olaziregi, M.J. (compiler), An Anthology of Basque Short Stories, Center for Basque Studies-University of Nevada, Reno, 2004.
ŠTranslation: Kristin Addis
Pello Lizarralde first made his name with his volume of poetry, Hilargiaren hotzikarak (Moon Shivers, Ustela, 1978). This work was the Guipuzcoan author's only foray into poetry, however, and he has worked exclusively in narrative ever since. About his narrative, Lizarralde says: "There are obsessive images behind all my books. Only a couple for each book, no more. When an image that really stirs me grabs me, I'm very patient and hold onto it for years" (in Volgako batelariak, 23, April 6, 2005).
As a reader, Lizarralde is primarily interested in 20th-century literature. "I've also read the classics, but certainly not the way I should have. I have many favorite writers from Central Europe, Italy, France and the United States. I'm normally not very interested in what comes out of South America, in terms of modern literature, I mean. I have always been in the habit of reading realist literature (the problem is defining what is realist). The names of some authors are linked for me. First chain: Gogol, Chekhov, Martin Walser, Kafka, Hans Lebert, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke. Second chain: Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner, Nathanael West, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Cormac McCarthy. Authors not linked to any chain: Proust, Rilke, Char, Ponge, Camus, Joan Ferrater, Benet, Luis Mateo Díez, Emmanuel Bove, Modiano, Ernaux, Krystof... Of the ones who are still living, the one I like the most and the one who interests me the most, by a long shot, is Cormac McCarthy. In any case, it's sometimes difficult for me to speak only of literature, because films and songs sneak into what I'm saying."
The novel, E pericoloso sporgersi. Zuri beltzean (E pericoloso sporgersi. In Black and White, Lur), which appeared in 1984, was the first step in Lizarralde's career as a prose writer. The main character is a technician who works in a cooperative. Although he seems to be a very uninteresting man, as the story advances, we realize that he is actually a murderer. After E pericoloso sporgersi. Zuri beltzean, Lizarralde published two more novels: Hatza mapa gainean (Finger on the Map, Pamiela, 1988), and Larrepetit (Erein, 2002), for which he won the Basque Country Prize in Literature in 2003.
Hatza mapa gainean is the story of an escape without end. The protagonists, Max and Beatriz, are being chased by a character named Beltz (Black), and will try anything to get him off their trail. An escape is the basis of the novel Larrepetit as well. About Larrepetit, Harkaitz Cano wrote the following: "Gesualdo Bufalino defined two types of writers: those who open their hand and write according to what falls in it, and those who turn their hand over and let everything in it slip out, then write according to the few elusive crumbs and flakes that remain. The former writes by sedimentation, and the latter by letting everything go and capturing just the essence. Like Raymond Carver and Natalia Ginzburg, Pello Lizarralde belongs to the second group. He spends a lot of time on each book. And on each sentence as well.
"His works are not lavish, at a time when lavishness is much valued. There is not much action in his stories, at a time when action is a virtue. His latest novel is Larrepetit, and it is one of those rare works that has not a single word too many. It tells the story of an escape, hiding a lot of information, suggesting a lot with a little. Each sentence was created not so much to be read, as for the reader's eye to slide over the lines. In literature, the economy of means is often cited: saying a lot in few words. But what is really difficult is choosing the essential and letting everything else go. Often, writers who are proud that their books are easy to read don't choose well and let the essential go, telling only the superficial details. This is not Pello Lizarralde's way. All of the necessary movements, directions of glances, smells and moods of light are given so that we may fully understand each moment. We feel the protagonists' breath: air currents, the sound of a wooden floor, the ray of light under the door, the smell of grass. All is in the service of a beautifully harmonized canvas that wakes our sleeping senses" (Cano, Harkaitz. "Larrepetit." El Correo, 26 June, 2002).
Lizarralde has also published two collections of stories: Sargori (Heat Wave, Pamiela, 1994) and Un ange passe: Isilaldietan (An Angel Passes: In Moments of Silence, Erein, 1998). In Sargori, "the sultry weather is the first thing the reader will notice, and the stories develop in this heat. They arise from a single image, possibly from what was seen sitting at a bar by the side of the highway. Indeed, highways and bars are places that appear often in the book. The narrations are, for the most part, descriptions of such images. I would mention two exceptions. There are two narrations that could be considered stories and that are on a different level, in terms of content and development. The first, called "Bazterretik" (From the edge), tells the story of a hanged man found in the mountains. The other, "Azpian" (Underneath), tells very tenderly of two children who love each other and the cruelty they experience in a remote place in the mountains. And tenderness is very much in evidence in all the narrations, as ubiquitous as sweat.
The remaining narrations, as mentioned above, are descriptions of images. Pello Lizarralde sees or imagines characters, something about them appeals to him. Perhaps their way of walking. Perhaps because he sees something sweet in them, intimate, weak, feminine. His characters are not typical; they are marked children, women, men. Marginalized, that is. He follows them as if with camera in hand. The narrations have movement, we hear the characters' voices as we read, smell the smells they smell, see what they see. Pello Lizarralde is meticulous. Therein lies his greatest worth" (Juaristi, Felipe. "Samurtasuna" (Tenderness), El Diario Vasco, September 3, 1994).
With respect to Un ange passe: Isilaldietan, "it is a collection of four narrations, and the four have the same characteristics: what is seen, what is heard; that is, they tell what is received by the senses, without interpretation. Events are presented, but without explaining what is behind them. Because of this, the narrations sometimes seem cold. What stays silent, what remains unsaid or unseen, becomes a great mystery for the reader, and therefore, he has the impression that there must be something unusual behind every act, even the most ordinary one, even though he is never given to know exactly what that unusual and mysterious something might be. The characters, as if lost in an immense solitude, are always chained to the present; they have no past or future. They appear wreathed in the mists of silence. It is more and more obvious to me that Pello Lizarralde is one of our best writers. This book is the proof of it" (Rojo, Javier. "Isiltasunen atzean" (Behind the Silences), El Correo, November 18, 1998).
Lizarralde's latest novel to date is titled Iragaitzaz (Passage, Erein, 2008). The work is based on an event that was reported in the newspapers in January of 2006: a truck driver was found dead at a rest stop, under his truck. The body had been there for two days without anyone noticing it. "Lizarralde, true to the style he showed in the collection of stories, Sargori, and in his highly praised novel, Larrepetit, gives no narrative thread or complicated literary plot. Everything moves forward by chance,
taking the direction given by lack of direction, and Martin's journey will be marked by spontaneous and unexpected events that seem to have no importance in themselves: his travels with other truck drivers, his encounters with a former co-worker who has become a bus driver, getting stuck in the town of La Nava because of the snow, returning the things in the truck to the son of the dead truck driver, the obligatory telephone calls to his mother... and of course, the phone call he is always waiting for" (Ayerbe, Mikel. "Joan-etorrian" (Return Trip), Berria, June 8, 2008).
Lizarralde has also worked in translation and has translated into Basque Natalia Ginzburg's Hirira doan bidea (The Road to the City, Igela) and Arratseko ahotsak (Voices in the Evening, Igela), as well as Gianni Celati's novel, Denak hasperenka (Gang of Sighs, Igela).
Further information about the author:
- To see the author's translated works, go to the List of Translations from Basque of this website.
- Literaturaren zubitegia.
- The website of the publishing house Erein.
- The website of the publishing house Pamiela.
Š Photo: bsarasola.wordpress.com
Š Larrepetit: Erein
Š Sargori: Pamiela
Š Un ange passe: Erein