MINTEGI, Laura

(Lizarra, 1955)

"Why write? Whatever for? The eternal question; so difficult to answer.

To live, to satiate the desire for knowledge, to dispel unease, to understand the world, to ask questions and to be able to come to some answers. I have heard some men say that they write to be loved. I doubt that's the case of one single woman writer.

All the books I have written have taught me something.

The short-story collection The Price of Illusion taught me that I could create new worlds and live lives that weren't my own, merely by means of the power of my imagination.

The novel Yes... but No taught me that incest isn't necessarily tragic or even dramatic. It can exist in a more natural way than we think, depending on the circumstances.

Through the novel Outside the Law I learned that I wasn't capable of getting under the skin of a torturer. I also learned that writing a genre novel (a thriller in this case) could be quite attractive, but, that if you give it little, you get little back.

The novel Nerea and I dealt with a theme I am very fond of: the presence of absence. Those no longer with us seem so present in their absence!

The novel Longing for Sisyphus is my daring attempt to explain something that is unexplainable. Falling in love is a kind of madness.

The novel Ecce Homo also deals with difficult themes. What is masculinity, what are politics and how do political stands vary depending on whether they are approached from a feminine or a masculine perspective? Politics with a revolutionary aim can't exist without the revolutionary power of femininity."


Š Estibalitz Ezkerra

Š Translation: Amaia Gabantxo

Laura Mintegi was born in Lizarra but has lived in Algorta since 1973. She has a degree in History (1978) and a PhD in Psychology (1999). The essay "Subjectivity in novel-writing: Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage," which was part of her thesis, was published in 1999. Since 1981 she has been a lecturer at the University of the Basque Country in the department of Basque Language and Literature. Since 2004 she has been the president of the Basque branch of PEN. She has written for many magazines, newspapers and radio stations, and taken part in numerous conferences, panel meetings and congresses. She won the Donostia Hiria prize in 1983 with the short story "Satorzuloa" (The Molehill) and her short story "Paris edo" (Maybe Paris) was shortlisted for the Santurtzi Short Story Prize. In 1982 the story "Ez dadila belu izan" (Don't Let it Get Late) was shortlisted for the Kirkino Prize. These three short stories were published in her first collection, Ilusioaren ordaina (The Price of Illusion - 1983). Subsequently, Mintegi published five novels: Bai... baina ez (Yes... But No - 1985), which won the Azkue prize, Legez Kanpo (Outside the Law - 1991), Nerea eta Biok (Nerea and I - 1994), Sisifo maite minez (Longing for Sisyphus - 2001) and Ecce Homo (2006). In the year 2000 she received the COPE award for her literary career.

Emotions are the core subject of Mintegi's writing, and love, the end of love, desire, dreams, despair and political engagement are ever-present in all of her works.

The Price of Illusion was published in 1983; peppered with touches of fantasy, it's a collection that relates life's paradoxes. The influence of Central European literature (especially Kafka) is obvious in the texts. The most remarkable short story in this collection - apart from the award-winning ones mentioned above - is "In the darkness of the storm," which recalls events surrounding the terrible floods of 1983.

The novel Yes... But No (1986), is a love story that challenges the boundaries of society. It takes place in a city and deals with issues such as loneliness, love and the different ways of experiencing sex. Mintegi's style here is simple: she avoids excesses, and the novel's universe is contained within the main narrator's perspective. It is interesting to note the references to art (Degas' paintings) and the film version of Women in Love. Whereas the film based on D.H. Lawrence's novel (1920) dealt with and oedipal fixation, Mintegi's novel looks at the Electra complex as represented in a father-daughter relationship. In the final analysis this novel is a lament for lonely people who wish to live outside the parameters of society.

The novel Outside the Law was shortlisted for the Jon Mirande Prize in 1989. In an interview, the author said: "the work of art is permeated by ideas that soak it, dry it, get it dirty and infect it," which goes some way towards explaining this novel's somewhat shocking theme: torture. The book is structured in two parts. In the first, Alfredo tells an unknown listener what happened four years before, when he met up with his childhood friend Ignacio. Ignacio is a famous lawyer and the defendant in a trial against a group of civil guards accused of torture. In the second part, a noir novel Ignacio has received is transcribed; in it, a mother commits savage murders: she kills every single woman who speaks to her son. As the two parts of the novel advance readers are forced to ask themselves the question at the root of this book: is justice outside the law possible?

By Mintegi's own admission Nerea and I (1994) is her most autobiographical book. The two protagonists of this novel are female: Isabel, a 42-year-old university teacher, and Nerea, an ETA militant imprisoned in a Paris jail. Because Nerea is Isabel's student, they start writing letters to each other, and in the four years the relationship lasts Isabel's life takes a dramatic turn. Motherhood, Isabel's feelings for the husband who abandons her, her political engagement and lesbian relationships are some of the main themes of this novel, which is written in a clear, direct and intimate tone. In the midst of such swirling emotions Isabel's voice dominates the narrative and Nerea's has a secondary role. "Life is a compromise," seems to be one of Mintegi's themes. Other themes are the male inability to commit, the oppression of women, sex without love, the search for criteria to measure political action and lesbian love (some of her points of reference are June and Mansfield, Woolf and Sackville-West and the love triangle of Sartre and Beauvoir and Colette). This seemingly uneventful novel aims to reflect on these themes, to dissect desire and to release the protagonist's true self.

In the novel Longing for Sisyphus (2001) Mintegi again returns to the themes of love, desire and longing. She seems to suggest that falling in love can catapult us into extreme situations. The novel tells the story of a woman who abandons her husband and children in the Basque Country to be with her lover. The novel starts from the moment of the woman's return to the family home. The narrator tries to dissect the process of falling in love, and to suggest that not all behaviour is understandable. Everything is scrutinised, everything is opened up in this psychoanalytic novel. And at the heart of it is the figure of Sisyphus, the mythical hero condemned to roll a giant boulder up a mountain peak for eternity. As Camus wrote in 1942, he was the first absurdist hero. Like Sisyphus with his boulder, we humans are burdened with the need to love and be loved, bound to follow a desire that leads us inextricably to the void. But Mintegi seems to suggest that the effort is worth it, and bringing together psychoanalytic concepts, famous writers (such as Proust and Pavese) and western philosophers (such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Spinoza), she weaves together a novel that deals with the complex theme of love.

Ecce Homo (2006) is this author's latest novel to date; its main themes are masculinity and politics.


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Photograph Š Mikel Soto