(San Sebastian, 1966)
"I am an historian by training and, at least for now, by profession as well; I teach economic history in Gasteiz, the city where I live.
In 1989 I published my first book, which was written in Spanish, Veinte cuentos cortitos (Twenty Very Short Stories). Then came books in Basque: Ipuin euskaldunak (1999, Basque Short Stories, with G. Markuleta), Gezurrak, gezurrak, gezurrak (2000 Lies, Lies, Lies), Traizioak (2001, Betrayals), and another in Spanish, La isla de los antropólogos y otros relatos (2002, The Anthropologists' Island and Other Short Stories). All of these are books of short stories. In children's literature, I wrote Kea ur gainean (2002, Smoke on the Water), and then a short essay, Obabatiko tranbia. Zenbait gogoeta azken aldiko euskal literaturaz (1989-2001) (2002, The train from Obaba. Some Reflections on Recent Basque Literature), both in Basque.
I consider myself a storyteller; I wouldn't say that stories and novels are opposites, but that they are very different genres. I agree with the writer John Cheever when he says that at the moment of death we tell ourselves a short story, at hat moment there's no time for a novel; I think this is an excellent assertion to highlight the intensity of a short story. However, as Augusto Monterroso said, thankfully, what a story is can never be defined: supposedly the art of writing stories has some rules, but the following is the only true rule: precisely, that rules are meant to be broken".
Zaldua, I. "Biography", in An Antology of Basque Short Stories, Center for Basque Studies-University of Nevada, Reno, 2004.
©Mari Jose Olaziregi
©Translation: Cecilia Rossi
Iban Zaldua is a historian and a lecturer in Economic History at the University of the Basque Country. He is a member of the editorial board of the on-line literary magazine Volgako Batelariak. To date he has published six volumes of short stories: Veinte cuentos cortitos (Twenty Very Short Stories) (Gipuzkoako Foru Aldundia, 1989), Ipuin euskaldunak (Basque Stories) (Erein, 1999, in collaboration with Gerardo Markuleta), Gezurrak, gezurrak, gezurrak (Lies, Lies, Lies) (Erein, 2000. Spanish: Mentiras, mentiras, mentiras, Lengua de Trapo, 2005), Traizioak (Betrayals) (Erein, 2001), La isla de los antropólogos y otros relatos (The Anthropologists' Island and Other Short Stories) (Lengua de Trapo, 2002), Itzalak (Shadows) (Erein, 2004) and Etorkizuna (Future) (Erein, 2005. Spanish: Porvenir, Lengua de Trapo, 2007).
Moreover, he has published literary criticism and essays in widely known magazines and newspapers, gathered in part in his volumes Obabatiko tranbia (The train from Obaba) (Alberdania, 2002) and Animalia disekatuak (Stuffed Animals) (Utriusque Vasconiae, 2005). His science fiction novel Si Sabino viviría (If Sabino Would Live) (Lengua de Trapo, 2005) is, for the moment, Zaldua's only work in this genre.
There are few Basque writers who have managed to write so successfully within the genre of the short story as Iban Zaldua. Humour, sharpness and an irony at times biting preside over his stories, but, above all, Zaldua enjoys meta-literary games in the style of Borges, as well as fantasy set in the everyday, in the style of Cortázar. Apart from these writers, the comic, pop culture and science fiction make up his literary affinities. It could be said that his writing seeks to break away from the topical and escape the obvious. The author has demonstrated he is capable of writing in very diverse registers and styles and of constructing attractive stories in which there is not one single spare word. But, above all, Zaldua's stories always manage to engage the reader. We are dealing with stories whose strength and intensity turn them into purveyors of that quality which, according to Cheever, the short story possesses: the ability to constitute that essential something we tell one another on our deathbed.
In his first book, Ipuin euskaldunak, Zaldua and Markuleta analyse the essence of Basqueness and patriotism from an ironic point of view. The book's cover, a reproduction of the painting Romería by Arrue, indicates from the start that we face a renewed text of manners. Ipuin euskaldunak is not a collection of patriotic stories, but of stories attempting to deal with the complexity and diversity of Basque society with humour and sometimes tragic touches. All in all, these stories manage to outline a smile on the reader's face and, through the references they include (Borges, Cortázar, Galeano, Monterroso, Calvino...) show Zaldua's literary affinities.
It can be said that Gezurrak, gezurrak, gezurrak marks an interesting forward movement in the author's literary career. The volume includes twenty-six stories gathered in six chapters and, as Zaldua himself has admitted, J. Cortázar is very much present in them. He is present since we are faced with the notion that realty, like fiction, is a great lie and that in our apparently coherent life cracks appear which challenge the boundaries of what is real and what is not. The writer uses techniques from the literature of the fantastic and tries to look into the past and pay off his debt to writers such as Vila Matas and Kundera. In the same way as in the previous volume, Zaldua looks at Basque reality and attempts to find instances for reflection. Among the stories worth highlighting is "Gérard Marchan", close to E.A. Poe, in which the protagonist uses his shop to hide corpses. Also worth mentioning is the meta-literary story entitled "Literatura eta iruzurra" (Literature and Fraud), where Zaldua pays homage to J.L. Borges.
The collection of short stories Traizioak (Betrayals) includes forty stories, organised under five headings: betrayals to realism, to the revolution, to memory, to the fatherland, and to literature. These are extremely short stories whose starting point is the everyday and then move on to create fictions saddled between tales and narratives. It is worth mentioning that the majority of the stories included in this volume are variations on the journalism published by the writer in the newspapers Egunkaria and El País, and that this significantly influences their style and content. The author utilises the first person narrative, anachronisms, multiple narrative levels, shocking endings, as well as the idea of fantasy set in the everyday in order to look at that which we call reality critically.
Zaldua carries to an extreme his ability to use different literary styles and registers in his collection of short stories Itzalak (Shadows) (2004). The thirty-seven stories that integrate this volume pay a literary homage to the shadow and highlight the inexpugnable passing of time, as well as the belief in Art in its attempt to reveal what is invisible. Thus, using meta-fiction, Zaldua embarks upon a literary journey through well-known authors and works in praise of the shadow.
The short story collection Etorkizuna (Future) (2006) was awarded the Euskadi Prize for Literature in 2006. It is a reflection on the passing of time constructed along the narrative thread of different stories in the collection, and it is this reflection that reveals to us an ironic and sceptical diagnosis of human relations, as well as of the Basque political reality. The recourse to diverse registers (science fiction, essay, literary playfulness), the use of great doses of irony, the paradoxes are some of the techniques utilised by Zaldua in order to foreground the dark side of the reality surrounding us.
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.
- Erein publishing house's website.
- Alberdania publishing house's website.
© Photo: donostiakultura.com
© Itzalak: Erein
© Ipuin euskaldunak: Erein
© Traizioak: Erein